On the Right Side of the Law

By Molly Moore

Wes Addington, left, enjoys a moment with his father and son en route to New Mexico for the National Bank Lung Conference. Photo Courtesy Wes Addington

Wes Addington, left, enjoys a moment with his father and son en route to New Mexico for the National Bank Lung Conference. Photo Courtesy Wes Addington

From the gallery of the Kentucky State Capitol, lawyer Wes Addington and a group of women from eastern Kentucky — mostly widows of coal miners — watched the Kentucky House pass a bill expanding legal and safety protections for state miners. The women had advocated tirelessly in support of the law, and witnessing their relief and joy that day in 2007 was one of the most powerful moments of Addington’s nine years working for miners’ rights.

A son of a coal miner and a native of Letcher County, Ky., Addington is a natural fit to represent coal miners and their families. As a legal defender with the nonprofit Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, he works with ailing miners or surviving family members to ensure they receive black lung benefits, and helps miners exercise their right to speak out about unsafe working conditions without losing their jobs.

“Unfortunately it’s taken very publicized mine disasters to make the kind of changes necessary to make mines safer,” Addington explains, but notes that with every disaster or accident, “there are lessons that can be learned.” Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center tries to identify improvements that could prevent future tragedies, and points out weak regulations to agencies and legislators. The 2007 law that requires Kentucky to inspect coal mines more frequently than any other state was a response to a 2006 Darby mine disaster that killed five miners in Harlan County.

27 Visionaries


27 Visionaries

Addington knows there is much more work to be done toward miner health and safety, but believes that regulations are moving in the right direction. He cites the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which simplifies the legal process for federal black lung claims, making it easier for affected miners and families to receive benefits. Changes like that, Addington says, make it a lot more rewarding to come to work every day.

To learn more, visit appalachianlawcenter.org


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  1. Lawrence Pendley on February 7, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    I am a 4th generation miner from Western Ky who was fired on Dec. 05 for speaking out for my miners and safety rights.I don’t even recall how I got Wes Addington name or number but he assured me after he was made aware of the situation and he felt I was wronged he would help if he could.
    Wes along with his staff have saved me and my families future and are still reaching out to help miners in my area. The sad thing is they travel several hundred miles to our area when no one here will help.
    These people know whats right and will help asking for nothing for themselves!
    We need and should have more like them.
    Lawrence Pendley

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