Posted by: Barry | May 20, 2010

Bishop Bransfield on Mine Safety

Kudos to Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, the Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, the diocese in which ABLE Families is located. Earlier this month, Bishop Bransfield released a new pastoral letter called On My Holy Mountain: Mine Safety in West Virginia.

It comes, of course, in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, which occured April 5 in Montcoal, WV, not too far from where we are.  (A reality of life in the mountains: Montcoal is less than 50 miles from Kermit as the crow flies, but nearly 100 miles of driving to get there.)

The letter is sober and measured in its teaching and observations. It expresses admiration for the miners of our state and respect for the importance of the mining industry to our economy and history. But it also insists that “we can … reasonably expect that miner safety be a higher priority than coal production.”

“Why,” the bishop asks, “is it safer to travel in space than to work in a West Virginia mine?”

The bishop admirably invokes Catholic social teaching — most notably the historic encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, On the Conditions of the Working Class, published 119 years ago this week. Applying this teaching to our own day and the circumstances of West Virginia, Bishop Bransfield writes,

Indeed, by virtue of human dignity, all persons have a right to a safe work environment and one in which unsafe conditions can be reported without fear of blacklisting or loss of one’s job. Workers have a right to a living wage and to reasonable work hours. The Church has long recognized and supported workers’ rights to organize. In the coalfields, such organization has had measurable benefits in terms of safety and we applaud all that the United Mine Workers of America have achieved. We must discover why union mines have a lower fatality rate in West Virginia and appear to have a much better safety record.

You can read the entire letter here, or download a .pdf file of it here. You can also watch the press conference at which the letter was presented here.

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