‘It’s unfair:’ Coal miners urge Congress to improve black lung protections and benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Coal fuels much of our electricity. The workers who mine for it put their lives and health at risk.

For decades, President of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Cecil Roberts has been fighting to protect coal miners. He spoke with our Washington News Bureau as he came to Capitol Hill this month.

“I’ve been here repeatedly over the years,” Roberts said.

For Roberts and his members, a major focus has been combatting black lung – a lung disease caused by inhaling dust.

“We know what causes black lung,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to make the mines healthier.”

Roberts testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety.

A lot of the testimony focused on concerns with a program Congress created to help miners and their families. The Black Lung Benefits Act from 1976 provides monthly compensation and medical coverage for coal miners who develop black lung.

But critics argue many miners aren’t getting the help they should be getting from the fund and point to years of mismanagement.

“It’s unfair. It needs to be made more fair and that’s coming from the heart of a coal miner who has seen too many people die from this,” Roberts testified.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is leading legislation to better help miners. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act is meant to make sure miners who have suffered from black lung and their survivors access the compensation they are entitled to receive.

Casey’s questioning highlighted the ongoing problems with the black lung benefits program.

“In your experience, do miners with the most serious black lung disease always get the benefits they’ve earned?” Casey asked.

“The short answer is no,” replied Dr. Drew Harris, Medical Director of Stone Mountain Black Lung Program.

“It’s important that this fund remain financially stable,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) said about the benefits program.

This year, the Biden administration announced a new rule cracking down on silica – a dangerous dust that can lead to black lung disease. Roberts said while the rule is a step in the right direction, he wants Congress to make it permanent.

“We need to make this law because when something’s a rule, it’s not the same as a law,” Roberts said. “Congress needs to act so the next person who comes in as Secretary of Labor who might disagree with this, [doesn’t] put us right back where we were before.”


[DOWNLOAD: Free Action News Jax app for alerts as news breaks]




[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]

Click here to download the free Action News Jax news and weather apps, click here to download the Action News Jax Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Action News Jax live.

Comments on this article

mobile apps

Everything you love about wokv.com and more! Tap on any of the buttons below to download our app.

amazon alexa

Enable our Skill today to listen live at home on your Alexa Devices!