The number of discrimination complaints MSHA has filed on behalf of miners reached a new high last year.

A total of 49 complaints were filed with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in 2014, MSHA said in a January 27 press release. Another 45 complaints were filed requesting temporary reinstatement of miners, the second highest ever for such complaints. 

“The Mine Act provides miners the right to a safe and healthy workplace and protects them if they suffer unlawful retaliation for exercising those rights,” said MSHA Assistant Secretary Joe Main. “These – along with unlawful interference in the exercise of their rights – are critical protections for miners, and MSHA will not hesitate to see those rights are enforced.”

Main also said that “bolstering worker voice protections was a top priority for me” after taking over the agency in October 2009. He added, “One of the most effective tools for keeping mines safe is ensuring that working miners have the confidence to point out safety and health hazards without worrying about their jobs.” 

In the release, MSHA cited as an example a California miner maintaining a dust collector machine at a cement facility, who contacted MSHA about perceived safety hazards associated with his job. The miner later was suspended and then terminated by his employer. MSHA filed a motion for the miner’s temporary reinstatement. The employer agreed to temporary economic reinstatement, which meant the worker would be paid his wages and benefits, but not return to work while the complaint worked its way through the legal system. Ultimately, the company agreed to fully reinstate the miner and pay back wages, MSHA said.

MSHA saw an increase in discrimination and interference complaints starting in fiscal year 2010, after launching an initiative to educate miners about their Mine Act rights. A pamphlet it distributed explained that miners may not be fired, demoted, harassed, intimidated, transferred, refused employment, suffer any loss of wages, or discriminated against for exercising their rights. In addition, MSHA posted an electronic form for filing an anonymous hazard complaint on-line and put together a discrimination complaint packet.