would be relatively small, so Part C would not entail much change to states’ programs or employers’ costs over the long run.
The one remaining hurdle was cost to the national treasury. The Nixon administration, which opposed the Black Lung program, estimated that it would cost anywhere from $155 million to $384 million in its first year. Estimates in Congress were considerably lower and ranged from $80 million to $180 million. A number of legislators, mostly Republicans, were troubled by the size and the wide range of estimates, a sign that the program’s future path would be hard to predict and potentially quite costly. In the end, they were unwilling to block a major health and safety bill on account of this one provision. President Nixon, however, did seem ready to veto the bill until workers at four West Virginia mines went on strike in late December. Nixon signed the bill into law on December 30, and the miners returned to work.
It is difficult to see the Black Lung program as a threat to state-level control of workers’ compensation. For one thing, the national government was stepping in to cover a disease that states had historically excluded. Neither doctors nor private insurers felt threatened. For another, the program hardly qualified as social insurance. The Black Lung program was not only financed differently than workers’ compensation – or disability insurance, or Social Security for that matter. As a practical matter, benefits were available only where coal miners worked and lived, which excluded much of the country. The Black Lung program was, at bottom, regional aid for Appalachia, a throwback to the Great Society of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Its unique design, and the UMW’s strong but historically specific need for a legislative victory, paved the way for the national government to become involved, ever so modestly, in compensating civilians for work- related disabilities.
THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT AND THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON STATE WORKMEN S COMPENSATION LAWS
The struggle over Black Lung benefits was part of a larger movement to improve working conditions. Shortly after passing the Coal Mine Safety Act, Congress approved and President Nixon signed the more sweeping Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970. The Act applied to every non-governmental employer in the country and created strict standards, new enforcement mechanisms, and new rights for workers. One section of the Act created a commission to study problems with workers’ compensation and recommend changes. In this last case study, I explain why substantive changes to workers’ compensation were not part of the original OSH Act and why the Commission’s work later failed to produce any change in state-level control of workers’ compensation.
The general issue of workplace safety gained greater visibility in the mid-1960s. One impetus came from organized labor. At the very top, union leaders were generally uninterested in better working conditions; they focused on winning higher wages and