Where MSHA enforcement and leadership are headed

By |  August 1, 2022

MSHA leadership

P&Q: Some of the changes happening and to come at MSHA will undoubtedly be driven by Christopher Williamson, the agency’s new assistant secretary. What should aggregate producers and others know about Williamson? What do you suspect his confirmation ultimately means for the aggregate industry and mine safety as a whole?

Lopez: Well, from what we’re seeing so far, he is very interested in learning about this industry. But he’s never worked in the industry. It’s been a little while since we’ve had someone as the head of MSHA who really doesn’t have a lot of direct in-mine experience, whether it’s from working with a labor union, like [former assistant secretary] Joe Main did, or actually working for companies or leading companies like [former assistant secretary] Dave Zatezalo.

Chris Williamson is sort of a longtime-Washington person, if you will. He’s a fairly young person. But he’s held a number of jobs around the city that have prepared him to be the assistant secretary, and that’s why he got into that position. He’s worked on the Hill. He’s worked at the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board). He has a very heavy kind of labor focus because of that.

He worked for [Sen.] Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) on the Hill. He comes from West Virginia. He worked at MSHA briefly under the Obama administration in an advisory role. And he’s also worked at the Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission, which is the court system we deal with with MSHA.

So he’s got a very interesting perspective, having had all these different roles. But he lacks the technical ‘boots-on-the-ground’ experience that would be good to have in that position.

He’s a lawyer. While it’s too soon to know exactly what his focus is going to be, I think his legal focus is something to watch; to see whether he’s looking to expand things, like the meaning of ‘significant and substantial,’ which is very important in writing citations and is still something that’s being litigated pretty heavily in the courts.

Other things to watch are MSHA’s discrimination cases, as well as what is the definition of discrimination and interference under the Mine Act. This is something the secretary of labor has been litigating very heavily, trying to change what that means in a way that’s favorable to the labor unions. My guess is he’s going to put some resources into that and, perhaps, come up with more interpretations of the law that you have to follow that we may have some concerns with.

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