Labor and management in the coal industry, after years of strife over health and safety conditions in the nation's mines, have agreed on unprecedented joint action to reduce the risks faced by coal miners.
The agreement was made by the United Mine Workers and its industry counterpart, the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, under auspices of the President's Commission on Coal, which grew out of the industry's bitter, 110-day strike last year.
Commission Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV claimed the agreement means that mine health and safety "has moved beyond the climate of progress-blocking confrontation" and serves as a "signal to the American public that they can depend on coal."
The agreement stops short of any forfeiture of unilateral action by either side but pledges cooperation in a number of areas, including development of stronger health and safety rules for the entire industry. Mines covered by BCOA-UMW agreements produce about half the nation's coal tonnage.
Specifically, the committed themselves to work trhough a joint committee "toward improved mandatory health and safety standards based on factually identified needs." They pledged to join with government agencies to prepare new rules and to "establish objectives to be attained by such standards."
They also said they will work on joint educational efforts and "promote the development of safer equipment . . . and mining systems which involve less risk to mining personnel."
The agreement represents a substantial turnabout for many coal companies that strongly resisted often-costly health and safety measures pushed by the union and the federal government.
In a joint statement, the two sides -- historically among the most contentious industrial combatants -- acknowledged that the future of coal as a major energy source hinges in part on ending the bickering over health and safety.