The federal government's mining oversight agency filed 49 complaints over worker discrimination allegations last year, more than in any year since its inception in 1978.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration, which enforces safety requirements at U.S. mining and mineral processing operations, files such complaints with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. The complaints alleged mine workers were improperly disciplined for engaging in protected activities, including filing complaints over safety violations or refusing to work under unsafe conditions.
The agency pointed to the example of a California worker terminated in April after bringing safety hazards to the MSHA's attention. The miner was eventually reinstated with back pay and the agency reached a settlement with the cement company in question.
The MSHA also filed 45 additional complaints seeking temporary employee reinstatement, the second-highest total on record.
"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 Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "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."
According to the latest annual numbers available, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported 39 fatal injuries in the mining industry during 2013 -- not including oil and gas extraction -- along with a nonfatal injuries and illnesses rate of 2.6 per 100 full-time workers.