California miner, fired for speaking out about unsafe working conditions, reinstated pending final ruling

A miner fired from his job at a California rare earth minerals operation when he spoke out about unsafe working conditions has been temporarily reinstated, according to a recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). 

An administrative law judge (ALJ) with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission ordered immediate reinstatement of the miner at the Mt. Pass Mine and Mill in Mountain Pass, California.  The employer, C.R. Meyer and Sons, responded by filing a motion to stay the judge's order and a petition for review of the decision with the commission. The commission ordered the ALJ to consider some additional evidence, but reiterated that "the miner remains reinstated under the terms of the judge's original decision."

The miner spoke out about various safety issues at the mine.  He refused to work on a sodium carbonate tank until the operator provided him with a material safety data sheet.  The miner asked for this sheet so that he would know what to do in the event of overexposure.  The miner also wanted to know what type of personal protective equipment to use when handling the chemical substance.  In addition, he refused to tie off on a vertical scaffolding pole (for protection from falling) rather than on a designated tie-off point, as required by MSHA, and made those complaints directly to management.  The following day, he was terminated.  Mine management told the miner he was laid off for "standing around" on different projects.

Section 105(c) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act protects miners, their representatives and applicants for employment, from retaliation for engaging in safety and health-related activities such as identifying hazards, asking for MSHA inspections or refusing to engage in an unsafe act.

For more information about this story go to:

By Lisl Duncan | May 29, 2013

Legal Developments