We're thinking today of our fellow Kentuckians who must choose between their personal safety and a paycheck.
Specifically, we're thinking of the 130 people who venture underground to earn their livings at Freedom Energy Mine No. 1 in Pike County.
Their workplace is a coal seam that gives off massive amounts of methane gas and is prone to roof falls. The mine is so chronically and gravely dangerous federal regulators last week took the unprecedented step of asking a federal judge to shut it down until the safety problems are corrected.
Never in the 33 years since Congress authorized it had injunctive relief been sought against the operator of an unsafe mine, until now. So you know it must be bad.
In response, the mine's owner, Massey Energy, said that it is considering voluntarily idling the operation because the mine is so big and old that complying with "newer" safety standards is a struggle.
For the record, Massey's problems at Freedom No. 1 are not new. They are the same old, well-known dangers that have been making widows and orphans in Eastern Kentucky for 100 years: Chronic failure to clean up accumulations of combustible coal dust. Failure to ventilate poisonous and explosive gases. Failure to shore up the roof and sides to prevent rockfalls. Failure to maintain equipment to protect against fires or explosions.
The only thing new is the attitude of the U.S. Department of Labor and its Mine Safety and Health Administration, which, under the Obama administration, are actually trying to protect workers who must choose between their personal safety and a paycheck.
In announcing the action against Massey, MSHA head Joe Main said "Freedom Energy has demonstrated time and again that it cannot be trusted to follow basic safety rules when an MSHA inspector is not at the mine. If the court does not step in, someone may be seriously injured or die."
MSHA is asking the judge to order Massey to pay the miners while the mine is shut down.
Massey said that, if it voluntarily idles the Pike County operation, it will try to reassign the miners to nearby locations.
Massey, which is courting potential buyers, has seen its stock value decline since 29 miners were killed in an explosion at its Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in April.
At the time of that disaster, MSHA was criticized for endangering workers by wasting its powers to shut down chronically dangerous mines.
MSHA did the right thing by moving to protect the workers at Freedom Mine No. 1. The only possible room for criticism is that the agency didn't move sooner.
It's telling that Massey would consider walking away from the mine rather than going to the expense of making it safe. But, then, the coal companies have always had better choices than their workers.