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Mine Safety Commission Rules in Favor of Whistleblower


The Kentucky Mine Safety Review Commission has ruled that a coal miner who reported unsafe conditions won’t be punished for breaking the law.Mackie Bailey worked at Manalapan Mining’s P-1 Mine in Harlan County. He says he was told to work without the necessary safety features on his roof bolting machine, and he did, because he was afraid he would lose his job if he refused.He eventually came forward and reported the situation to the state. Even so, he faced punishment for operating the machine in the first place.But Bailey still faced sanctions from the commission for violations, because operating the machine without the safety devices is against the law.The attorney for the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing argued that it was clear a violation occurred. Bailey and his attorney—Tony Oppegard—didn’t dispute that, but argued that sanctions were inappropriate, because the information Bailey provided was invaluable. Oppegard also worried that prosecuting whistleblowers for the violations they report would have a chilling effect on other coal miners who might consider coming forward.The three men on the Mine Safety Review Commission ruled in favor of Bailey that no punishment was deserved, even though a violation did occur. Commissioner William Donan also commended Bailey for his actions.But even though the ruling was in his favor, Bailey still doesn’t have a job and doesn’t think anyone in Eastern Kentucky will hire him because of the publicity his case received. He says even so, he’s glad he told the authorities about the conditions at the P-1 Mine.“I believe what I did saved lives, and I believe because of what I did, there may be a few people that live a little bit longer,” he said.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.