MSHA Chief Reaches Out to Labor, Industry

April 11, 2005
The current administrator of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), David Dye, appears to have much in common with Jonathan Snare, who now leads OSHA, MSHA's better-known sister agency.

Both are acting administrators who presumably will serve only until the Senate confirms President Bush's choice to fill the positions permanently. Neither man has an extensive background in occupational safety and health, while both are lawyers who bring government experience and political credentials to the job. Like Snare, Dye began to serve in the Department of Labor during the first years of the Bush administration. Dye was named to his post in November; Snare got the nod to lead OSHA one month later.

But while relations between organized labor and OSHA remain frosty and Snare's lack of safety experience is a problem for Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO's director of safety and health, Dye appears to have won over the United Mineworkers of America.

"Communications with the union were bad by the time [former MSHA Administrator] David Lauriski left," commented Tim Baker, the union's deputy administrator for occupational health and safety. "So Dye made a point of contacting the union and sitting down with us on several occasions to discuss a whole host of issues. We really appreciated that."

The National Mining Association, an industry group, also likes what it has seen of Dye so far. "My perception is that we've had a good relationship so far," said Carol Raulston, the group's senior vice president for communications.

Raulston noted that since the departure of Lauriski there has been less activity at MSHA, but this is not unusual during transition periods.

Raulston welcomed one of the first actions Dye took after taking the helm at MSHA: He shined a light on the need for education about drug and alcohol-related mine accidents. "That's a positive step," Raulston said. "This has come up as a cause of fatalities."

Dye came to the Department of Labor in June 2001, where he served as deputy assistant secretary for the Employment and Training Administration. He later served at MSHA as its deputy assistant secretary for policy beginning in May 2004. Previously, he worked in separate assignments as chief counsel to the House Resources Committee, the House Agriculture Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Dye's lack of a mining background did not appear to disturb Baker. "We had many problems with Lauriski, and he had an extensive mining background," Baker said.

The mineworkers and the current administration still differ on some issues. For example, the union believes MSHA enforcement is weaker now than it should be.

Baker and Dye do agree, however, that one of the most pressing issues confronting MSHA and the coal mining industry is the imminent retirement of a generation of miners and MSHA inspectors, and the need to replace them. "We need to increase the training programs for new miners and new inspectors," Baker said. "When you bring lots of young people into the mines you run the risk of maiming and killing a lot of people."

At a recent hearing on Capitol Hill, Dye made a similar point.

Unlike Snare, Dye does not appear to want stay on as the permanent head of the agency where he is now the acting administrator, according to Baker.

"We have no idea who or when they will name someone to lead MSHA," said Baker. "We're surprised it hasn't happened already, but it's not a problem because of the good working relationship we have with Mr. Dye."

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