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December 6, 2013

Miner’s Day: Recognize contributions and sacrifice

We must always recognize the contributions and sacrifice of our nation’s miners.

That’s a message being reinforced today, the fourth annual National Miner’s Day.

The observance was the dream of Fairmont artist Creed Holden, a Doddridge County native who moved to Marion County to attend Fairmont State.

“I learned about the miners themselves, the people who did the actual mining of the coal,” he said. “Their stories tugged at my heartstrings. They worked so hard and were paid too little.”

On Feb. 17, 2006, the West Virginia Legislature completed legislation creating Miner’s Day to “honor each and every miner, past, present and future.”

Then, on Dec. 3, 2009, the U.S. Senate officially passed a resolution making Miner’s Day a commemorative holiday each Dec. 6.

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D­-W.Va., jointly introduced a resolution in both houses of Congress to support the goals and ideals of a National Miner’s Day.

The date of Dec. 6 was selected because it is the anniversary of the worst industrial accident in American history, in 1907, that took place in Monongah. At least 361 men and boys perished in a devastating mine explosion.

In West Virginia, of course, coal mining is the focus, but today all the nation’s miners are being honored.

Joseph A. Main, the assistant secretary of labor for Mine Safety and Health, stressed this point in a letter sent this week to the Sun Advocate in Utah.

“American miners play a much larger role in our lives than most people realize. They extract a variety of raw materials, such as coal, copper, phosphate, silver, limestone, iron and zinc — ores that are essential components in the products we use every day,” Main said.

“Coal, and the electricity generated by coal power, play prominent roles in our homes, businesses and communities. Miners produce the gravel, crushed stone, tar, asphalt, road salt and cement used to build the roads we travel on and to make them safer. The bridges we build to span canyons and rivers are built with rock and mineral products produced by miners.

“Gold, silver and copper wiring, ceramic insulators, and silicon processing and memory chips are essential components in electronics that we use daily, such as smartphones, computers and televisions.

“Thousands of everyday consumer goods are made with the fundamental materials secured from the hard work of miners. They range from cosmetics to toothpaste, from cookware and dinnerware to appliances.”

There has been plenty of sacrifice along with the contributions of miners. Marion County last month marked the 45th anniversary of the 1968 Farmington mine disaster that took 78 lives.

“It was then that West Virginians finally said enough is enough,” said Mike Caputo, a coal miner who now serves as United Mine Workers District 31 international vice president and as majority whip in the state House of Delegates. “People should not have to go to work worrying about whether they are going to make it home to their families at the end of the day.”

The Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 were passed.

Mining is indeed safer but not safe.

As Caputo noted, the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in Raleigh County killed 29 miners, and there are on average dozens of mine fatalities each year.

Main said that “through the ‘End Black Lung — Act Now’ initiative and other occupational health efforts, we are making progress in limiting miners’ exposure to respirable dust and other harmful contaminants. While more needs to be done to prevent death, injury and illness in the nation’s mines, our efforts and collaboration with labor and industry stakeholders are showing positive results.”

That progress must never be slowed as we are reminded this Miner’s Day, an occasion to officially mark so many years of contributions and sacrifice that we must never forget.

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