Among those attending the talk was, surprisingly, a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter.
Sometimes these get-togethers at the Pump House, a small vestige of the once-great-now-gone steel mill, resemble preaching to the choir events. I can’t help but wonder how many who aren’t diehard labor supporters attend these shindigs. Still, I’m glad they happen.
It had been a while since I’d visited the Pump House. Last time I was there, they didn’t have the neat wall hangings with depictions of mill workers from all of the decades of the erstwhile steel mill. The artwork gives the space a more pointed air.
I got there late and missed the first part of the talk.
Twedt asked the union reps, what was the difference between December 2005 and January 2006?
“Even though nothing happened in December 2005, that doesn’t mean the conditions weren’t there for some [accident] to happen,” Yankovich said. He reflected on the earlier comment of Bowersox, who’d said that many of the fatalities in the industry happen to young workers. “Ten years from now, 70 percent of the people working [in mining] are going to be retired. Who will replace all these workers?”
Twedt noted that the history of mine safety has been that every overhaul of regulations has been precipitated by some disaster.
“We’d like them to enforce [the regulations] we have,” Yankovich said. “But unfortunately, that’s not going to happen until there’s a change in the administration. These MSHA inspectors don’t agree with a lot of the things they have to do. This disregard for safety comes from the very top of the administration.”
Someone in the audience noted that many more workers are killed yearly in China. Yankovich said about 5,000 mining workers die each year in China.
“Workers really have to be educated, in their own mind, to work safely,” he said. “It’s harder to work safe than it is to work unsafe. You’ve got to be educated and disciplined in order to know how to work safe.”
A guy in the audience asked if the panelists saw the possibility of a turnaround in the fortunes of workers.
Yankovich fielded the question. “Is there a potential for things to change real quick?” he asked. “I’d say yes, if people get their heads out of their asses. How do we turn around public sentiment? Thirty-five thousand people went to a Steelers rally, and 70 percent of those people probably didn’t have health care! Now how many do you think would come if we had a rally for health care? That’s the problem. How do you change that?”