By Mike Tony, Charleston Gazette-Mail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In his 27 years as an underground coal miner in West Virginia, Gary Hairston noticed that it took some backup to breathe easier.
“There was a lot better protection in a union mine,” Hairston recalled. “The union backs you.”
Hairston found that a union representative would investigate miners’ complaints.
“It’s like night and day between a union and a nonunion coal mine, when it comes to extreme overexposure to coal mine dust,” said Sam Brown Petsonk, a Beckley attorney who has represented miners in black lung benefit and safety grievance cases.
Hairston, now president of the Black Lung Association, was a nonunion miner at the now-defunct Massey Coal Co. in 2002, when he had to retire from mining coal at 48 years old because of advanced black lung disease that has taken away the wind he needs to play with his grandson…
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