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United Mine Workers union protests drug test hearing format

Oct. 08, 2008 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- The United Mine Workers is accusing federal regulators of trying to prevent miners from testifying about rules that would expand drug testing in the industry.

The union leveled the accusation in a letter to Mine Safety and Health Administration director Richard Stickler in a letter released Tuesday.

Typically, the agency brings a panel of experts to West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and at least one western coal state to take testimony on proposed rules. For the drug-testing proposal, which the UMW opposes, MSHA plans to take testimony via a single Webcast in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Denver. People could listen, but not testify, in West Virginia and Alabama.

"My guess is that these locations were chosen to purposely limit if not eliminate the miners' participation," UMW official Dennis O'Dell wrote. "Historically, Denver Colorado has had very low turnouts for MSHA's past public hearings. I am also trying to figure out how many active coal miners live in the Washington, DC area that will be participating on the day of the teleconference. My guess is ZERO."

O'Dell goes on to question why the agency won't take testimony from West Virginia and Alabama. West Virginia is the nation's second-largest coal-producing state, while Alabama ranks 13th.

"How does this keep in step with Congress' intent to encourage miners' participation if MSHA holds public hearings that set up one roadblock after another?" O'Dell wrote.

An MSHA spokeswoman had no immediate response Tuesday.

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