Nov. 13, 2017

Senate to Vote on MSHA Head Nominee With Alarming Worker Safety Record

Statement of Shanna Devine, Worker Health and Safety Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Note: The U.S. Senate is preparing to vote on the confirmation of David Zatezalo to be assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. If confirmed, he will serve as head of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which has a mission to prevent death, illness and injury and promote safe and healthful workplaces for U.S. miners. Zatezalo formerly served as the chairman of coal mining company Rhino Resource Partners. Public Citizen has reported on the company’s history of safety violations and the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that Rhino Resource Partners “repeatedly clashed” with MSHA. According to ProPublica, the company also engaged in unlawful employment practices and illegal retaliation against an employee who reported unsafe working conditions during Zatezalo’s tenure.

David Zatezalo has exactly the wrong qualification to lead the nation’s mine safety agency. The Senate should reject his nomination.

Miners work in one of the world’s most dangerous professions, with a rising U.S. death toll in 2017. The agency head tasked with protecting miners must have a proven track record of upholding worker health and safety. Since whistleblowers are literally the canary in the coal mine in this industry, that leader also must have a zero-tolerance record for whistleblower retaliation.

In sharp contrast, former coal mining executive David Zatezalo has been nominated to lead the Mine Safety and Health Administration – the very agency that cited his former company for a litany of violations. Alarmingly, numerous miner deaths and retaliation against a foreman who reported dangerous working conditions occurred on Mr. Zatezalo’s watch.

It will be critical for the new MSHA head to push back against the Trump administration’s radical deregulatory rhetoric and policies that will put the health and safety of miners at risk. Unfortunately, Mr. Zatezalo’s record inspires little confidence that he will make saving miners’ lives a top priority over corporate profits.

Congress should follow the example of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who asserted he was “not convinced that Mr. Zatezalo is suited to oversee” MSHA after reviewing his safety record during his time in the coal industry. The Senate must demonstrate that it has learned from the Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy and countless other mining disasters by opposing Mr. Zatezalo as assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

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