WILKES-BARRE — The federal government has approved plans to consolidate two Northeastern Pennsylvania offices of the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration. Under the proposal, the Wilkes-Barre office would close and this region would be served by the Frackville office.
According to the administration’s Assistant Secretary of Administration and Management T. Michael Kerr, who signed off on the proposal last month, the Wilkes-Barre office, in the Stegmaier Building, at 7 N. Wilkes-Barre Blvd., will close by May 31.
Of the 11 positions assigned to Wilkes-Barre office, two are vacant, two have announced plans to retire and one has already requested a move to another office. The remaining five will be offered positions at offices in other districts, according to a Mine Safety and Health Administration memorandum obtained by The Times Leader.
The letter, detailing the reasoning for the consolidation and requesting approval for the reorganization plan, says the “action is necessitated by the reduced workload of the District 1 office.”
District 1 is the bureau’s smallest district with only 10 underground mines and 61 surface mines. Of them, all 10 underground mines and 50 of the surface mines are currently overseen by the Frackville field office.
Since 2006 the number of underground mines in District 1 has decreased by 34 percent. Frackville will then become part of the administration’s District 2, which is based in Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County, and serves bituminous coal mines in western Pennsylvania.
The plan was met with questions by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, including what happens to the 11 employees in the Wilkes-Barre office and what safeguards have been put in place to ensure safety of miners in Luzerne County and the rest of the Northeast Region that was served out of the Wilkes-Barre district office.
He also references that this has a statewide impact as a district that serves bituminous coal mines is also part of a consolidation plan.
In a letter to Joseph A. Main, the assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health for the U.S. Department of Labor, Casey writes: “I have some serious concerns about what the District 1 and 2 reorganization proposal means for the safety and oversight of those currently working in these two districts and how MSHA plans to provide the same oversight with fewer resources and less staff.”
Casey, who serves as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, goes on to mention the state’s anthracite mining slowdown but notes safety of the ongoing operations should not be compromised.
“I’m well aware of the unfortunate reduction of underground mining in the Commonwealth’s anthracite coal fields over the past few years and I understand MSHA’s efforts to realign their resources accordingly. Know that I’m committed to ensuring that any efforts to relocate MSHA offices and create efficiencies within the government don’t come at the sole expense of my constituents’ safety,” Casey said.