Monday, October 24, 2005

MSHA Nominee Stickler: High Risk For Miners?

Last month, President Bush nominated Richard Stickler to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The National Mining Association applauded the nomination, saying that Stickler “clearly has a great deal of experience with mine safety and health."

The problem, according to the United Mineworkers, is that most of that experience is bad.

In fact, while Sticker was a mine manager prior to his appointment in 1997 as Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Deep Mine Safety, the mines he managed had injury rates that were double the national average, according to government data assembled by the Mineworkers.
The data was collected in a letter from formerUMWA Safety Director Joe Main in a letter to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge objecting to Stickler's appointment to the Bureau
In his letter, Main said UMW officials examined the safety records of the two Bethlehem Steel operations that Stickler managed. Stickler was manager of the company’s Cambria Slope Mine No. 33 near Ebensburg, Pa., from 1989 to mid-1994. He was manager of Bethlehem’s Eagle’s Nest Mine near Van, Boone County, from 1994 through 1996.

Main wrote that the Cambria mine “had a deplorable health and safety record (one of the worst in Pennsylvania) during the time that Stickler managed the mine.”

While Stickler was mine manager at Eagle’s Nest, Main wrote, federal officials targeted the mine for the most serious enforcement action allowed under the nation’s mine safety laws.

He wrote that the two mines had injury and accident rates that were double the national average in six of the eight years that the union reviewed.

Also, Main wrote, both operations were cited for hundreds of mine safety violations in each of the years that Stickler managed them.

He said the figures indicate “a very poor compliance record.”

“These figures would rank Stickler’s operations among the highest cited in the country,” Main wrote. “Collectively over the eight-year period, the federal government issued nearly 3,000 citations and closure orders at mines that Mr. Stickler managed.”

“I found this information on Mr. Stickler’s background very alarming,” Main wrote. “Not only has Stickler’s focus been solely on productivity and cost, but it appears that management at his mines allowed miners to be placed at a very high risk while he worked toward his focused goals.

“How could such a person with this clear pattern of high violations and high accidents even be considered for such an important health and safety position?
The Charleston Gazette, which found the letter, says that Stickler has declined to be interviewed and the White House has not yet responded to questions from the paper.

Bush clearly thinks that the Stick-man did a heck of a job in his past jobs. Sounds like Stickler's confirmation hearings could be interesting, assuming the Senators feel like taking seriously their "advise and consent" role in these post-Brownie times.