Thursday, December 2, 2021

Agency: Tennessee zinc miner fired for voicing safety worry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Federal regulators have brought a complaint against a zinc mining company, claiming that an employee in Tennessee was illegally fired for making safety complaints about the mine.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh filed the complaint earlier this month with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission against Nyrstar Gordonsville LLC on worker Richard Waller. In April, an administrative law judge approved the labor secretary’s request for temporary reinstatement of Waller’s pay and benefits while the case over the Cumberland mine in Smith County proceeds.

The complaint claims Waller was fired for documenting unsafe conditions in the mine’s shaft inspection book; complaining to supervising staff about those conditions; engaging in protected refusal to perform welding without a required fire extinguisher, and speaking with a Mine Safety and Health Administration inspector who was on-site at the mine.

In an agreement signed by the company and attorneys for the Department of Labor and Waller, instead of physically returning to work, the mine worker is temporarily receiving his pay and benefits and can seek employment elsewhere while his case proceeds.

In statements in the case, Waller wrote that the form he received during his firing said he was terminated for “insubordination.” However, the only discipline that should have remained on his record was a two-day suspension in January 2021 for violating the lockout/Tagout policy to isolate energy sources before workers do mechanical or electrical work.

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