ON Dec. 6 each year, we pause to honor our country's coal miners, and reflect on the sacrifices those men and women have made over the course of well over 100 years.
That date was chosen because on Dec. 6, 1907, the worst industrial accident in American history took place in the West Virginia community of Monongah. In that devastating mine explosion, at least 361 men and boys perished.
In that year alone, it is believed more than 3,000 lives were lost nationwide to mine accidents.
Miners, some boys as young as 10 years old, were treated like slaves back then, being forced to enter unspeakably hazardous conditions.
Coal was vital to the economy and to people's quality of life. It was very profitable for the companies. But no one was looking out for our most precious resource: the men who mined that coal.
It took another tragedy in West Virginia nearly 60 years later to effect any real change in the way our miners were treated.
In my home county of Marion, the 1968 Farmington mine disaster took 78 lives. It was then that West Virginians finally said enough is enough. People should not have to go to work worrying about whether they are going to make it home to their families at the end of the day.
The widows and family members of those miners stepped forward and lobbied Congress, prompting the government to finally respond to decades of egregious working conditions and adopt the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.