The United Mine Workers of America International Union (UMWA) and the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW) jointly filed an emergency petition on June 16 for a writ of mandamus to force the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to issue an emergency temporary standard to protecting miners from infectious diseases. The petition was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and asked for an expedited hearing process with a ruling to be issued within 30 days after the court issues a decision.

“We have been asking MSHA to step up and do its job to protect America’s miners from the beginning of this pandemic,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “But so far, the agency has refused. You would think that those who are charged with keeping miners safe would want to actually do so.”

Roberts added that miners work in an environment that is much different than other work places. “The air is circulated throughout the mine, meaning an airborne disease like COVID-19 can spread among workers who are far removed from one another,” he said. “A 6-ft social distance is meaningless in an underground environment.”

USW International President Tom Conway said an emergency temporary standard for infectious diseases was needed at the beginning of the pandemic and is still needed.

Miners have been mostly designated as “essential” during the pandemic and since some stay-at-home orders have been lifted, more miners will be returning to work.

The petition stated, “If MSHA fails to issue an ETS to address this unprecedented crisis, the life and health of tens of thousands of miners will be placed in grave danger as a result of the miners’ increased exposure to COVID-19.”

This petition comes just five days after the court denied a similar petition from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to issue an emergency standard to protect employees who work in industries regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which made the decision not to issue an emergency standard. In the AFL-CIO case, the court said, “the OSHA reasonably determined that an ETS is not necessary at this time.”