Coal Tattoo

UMWA: Global warming is real, so let’s deal with it


The United Mine Workers of America union isn’t supporting the American Clean Energy and Security Act — at least not yet. But while coal industry leaders like Massey Energy’s Don Blankenship and front groups like Faces of Coal Friends of America peddle the idea that global warming is some made-up scam, UMWA President Cecil Roberts is facing facts.

In a recent interview, Roberts had this exchange with Steve Curwood, host of the public radio show Living on Earth:

CURWOOD: Let me just get one thing clear here. The United Mine Workers and coal miners that you represent do feel that there is a serious problem with climate change – that the science is real and that this is something that we’ve got to deal with. Do I have that right?

ROBERTS: That would be correct. The union has never taken a position arguing against the science of climate change. We’ve engaged in the debate as to how to deal with it. We’ve spent lots and lots of time and resources of coal miners trying to deal with this issue in order to protect the jobs of the coal miners and, quite frankly, the jobs of many people, particularly in some of the hardest and most difficult economic areas of the country.

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Friends of America, health care and Harman Mining


Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

Hope everyone had an enjoyable and safe Labor Day weekend. We’ve got tons of coverage on the Gazette’s Web site about the Friends of America rally  and the UMWA’s annual Labor Day Picnic.

It was interesting that speakers at the UMWA event focused on health care reform, especially given the story that my friend Paul Nyden wrote in the Gazette-Mail on Sunday. In Harman miners hope court will reverse itself, pay for medical bills, Paul detailed a litte-mentioned result of the Hugh Caperton v. Massey lawsuit: The loss of medical benefits for the miners who worked for Caperton’s Harman Mining.

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Happy Labor Day


 A roof bolter at work at Blue Mt. Energy’s Deserado Mine, Rangely, Colo. Photo by Phil Smith, UMWA.

Here’s hoping everybody has a safe and enjoyable weekend with their families.

Read about the history of the holiday from the U.S. Department of Labor, Wikipedia,  or the AFL-CIO.

Roberts re-elected to UMWA post


This just in from the United Mine Workers of America:

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E.
Roberts and International Secretary-Treasurer Daniel J. Kane have
received sufficient nominations from UMWA local unions to be reelected
to their posts for a new five-year term.

“Dan and I are very humbled and honored to be given the opportunity by
the membership of the UMWA to serve another term as their President and
Secretary-Treasurer,” Roberts said. “We look forward to confronting the
challenges that face our members in the upcoming years, and continuing
our fight to improve the jobs, wages and benefits of active and retired
UMWA members.

“Dan and I keep in our hearts the words of the great John L. Lewis, who
said, ‘I derive my strength from the membership of the United Mine
Workers of America,’” Roberts said. “We know that with the continued
support and solidarity of our membership, nothing can defeat us.”

The period for nominations closed on Aug. 1. To date, the union’s
Auditor/Tellers have received nominations from 270 local unions. No
other candidates have received nominations for any International office,
though local unions have until Aug. 15 to return nominations to the
International Auditor/Tellers.

Roberts, who with 14 years in office is the second-longest serving
President of the UMWA after Lewis, noted that the Auditor/Tellers will
certify the election within a few weeks after the August 15 deadline.

The UMWA Constitution mandates that candidates for President,
Secretary-Treasurer and At-Large International Vice President receive
nominations from at least 20 percent of local unions union-wide.
Candidates for International District Vice President and International
Auditor/Teller must receive 20 percent of the nominations from the
jurisdictions they represent.

Sam Church, former UMWA President, 1936-2009


Former UMWA President Sam Church, front right, is shown at an early morning news conference at a mine disaster in this Gazette file photo.

Word came in from the union a bit ago that former United Mine Workers of America President Sam Church died early this morning. He was 72.

churchsam.jpgChurch, who was born in Matewan, W.Va., was president of the UMWA from 1979 to 1982, when he was defeated by Richard Trumka in a bid for re-election to the post.

According to a Wikipedia profile, Church was born on Sept. 20, 1936. The profile went on:

His family moved to Virginia in 1944. He took a job at a sugar plant in Baltimore, Maryland in 1956 and joined the United Packinghouse Workers of America. He was elected to a variety of local union positions.

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Yesterday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., uphold a lower court ruling that requires Massey Energy to rehire 85 union miners who lost their jobs after the coal giant took over the Mammoth Coal complex in 2004.

A three-judge panel backed the previous ruling by U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin involving the United Mine Workers members. The UMW miners lost their jobs after Massey bought the operation near the Kanawha-Fayette county border in August 2004 from Horizon Natural Resources after Horizon went into bankruptcy.

The 4th Circuit’s decision is posted here, and Judge Goodwin’s August 2008 ruling is here.

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Ludlow remembered

I’ve written before on Coal Tattoo about the Ludlow Massacre and its place in labor and coal history.

Over last weekend, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and an estimated 700 people were on hand for the dedication ceremony for the Ludlow Massacre Memorial Monument, according to a story from the Durango Herald.

There’s also new YouTube video, with a speech by UMWA President Cecil Roberts at that event:

W.Va. and global warming: Coal wins another round


As it stands now, the amount of money dedicated to coal in this bill is remarkable, and the future of coal will be intact.

UMWA spokesman Phil Smith

Major forces in West Virginia’s political establishment are all united now in opposing passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the bill considered by many to be the current best hope to get some national action to deal with global warming.

All three of our state’s House members (two Democrats and one Republican) plan to vote against the bill if it comes up for a vote today. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has been drumming up press coverage attacking the measure, and the coal-mining industry certainly is against it. (See today’s op-ed commentary by renegade coal operator Bob Murray.)

The news this morning was quite a reminder of how much West Virginia’s leaders allow their concerns about coal to drive their actions, despite the growing body of research that the  costs of the industry outweigh its economic benefits (See Weighing coal’s costs and What does coal cost Kentucky?)

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UMWA Journal blasts Massey’s Blankenship


The latest issue of the United Mine Workers Journal takes on one of the union’s longtime opponents, Massey Energy Don Blankenship, with a lengthy article called, “Don’s World: Massey Energy’s CEO defines a rogue coal company.”

Of course, the UMWA’s beef with Blankenship goes back to the mid-1980s strike. But the story focuses on more recent events, including the Harman Mining case, Blankenship’s involvement in West Virginia politics more generally, and recent workplace safety and environmental problems at Massey operations.

It quotes UMWA President Cecil Roberts:

Coal can be mined in an environmentally responsible way. But in many respects, Massey has chosen not to do it that way, and the result has been to give the coal industry a black eye. As public scrutiny gets raised about coal and coal mining, Massey gives those who oppose coal something to point to as they bad-mouth our entire industry.

The article continues:

In Don Blankenship’s world, the coal industry should hunker down behind the Appalachian mountains and do nothing but call names and make enemies. He somehow appears to think that if he can ignore the issues surrounding coal and the future of coal, or if he says enough bad things about the politicians in Washington, then they will go away and leave the coal industry alone.

Roberts says:

“That is a recipe for failure … Don’s solution is to make the politicians do their worst and then try to gain some political advantage from it. That won’t lead to a single additional ounce of coal being mined, or a single coal job being saved.”

Remembering the Pittston strike

umw-jrl-marapr09-fin-1.jpgI keep meaning to do a quick blog post to promote the latest issue of the United Mine Workers Journal. It features a lengthy cover story — including lots of nice photos by the great Earl Dotter — about the Pittston Coal strike.

Twenty years ago, when the UMWA called its selective strike against Pittston operations in West Virginia and Virginia, I was a 21-year-old summer intern at The Charleston Gazette. I had the incredible experience of covering the  strike, at least the part of it that took place down in Logan County, W.Va. It was, to say the least, an educational experience.

The legacy of the Pittston strike, of course, is passage of the Coal Act,  along with subsequent legislation that protected the health care benefits of thousands of retired coal miners and their widow.

The UMWA Journal article is available online here, thanks to union communications director Phil Smith (a Coal Tattoo reader and sometimes commenter). Check it out.

Searching for Cecil Roberts


I’ve been reading and re-reading the commentary by United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts that appeared in our Sunday Gazette-Mail this weekend.

Over the last two days, as I’ve read it and walked away from it, and read it and walked away from it again, I can’t help but think that I’m glad I’m not in Cecil’s shoes. He’s stuck in the middle of some political stuff that would be tough for anybody to try to navigate.

But there’s more to this all than politics. Climate change holds the future of the planet and our society in the balance. Mountaintop removal holds the future of some of the oldest mountains and the most diverse forests and streams on Earth. And while coalfield residents and communities are struggling with the impacts of large-scale surface mining, these same communities would also struggle with the effects of just turning off the switch and shutting these mines down.

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Southeast Community and Technical College instructor Terry Gilliam teaches inmates in the Harlan County jail the ins and outs of coal mining on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 near Harlan, Ky. By completing courses in the jail, the inmates will be certified as coal miners when they’re released, qualifying them for jobs that can pay in excess of $50,000 a year.

The Associated Press dubbed this story “mining outlaws.” Now, first, let’s be clear: Folks who pay their debt to society deserve second changes, as least as far as I’m concerned. But as one reader has already asked me: Is this how far the coal industry in Kentucky will go to avoid hiring experienced miners that might have union sympathies?


Associated Press Writer

HARLAN, Ky. — Jerry Elliott hopes to trade his jail jumpsuit and slippers for a hardhat and work boots when he comes up for parole later this year.

Mining is one of the few bright spots in Kentucky’s otherwise dismal economy, and with coal prices high, officials have picked an unusual classroom — a county jail — to teach potential miners a dangerous, difficult job.

Elliott and about 20 other inmates at the Harlan County Detention Center crowd into a drab, locked room each Wednesday to learn the ins and outs of the mining industry, which employs 17,000 in Kentucky.

Their goal? Land lucrative jobs in the Appalachian coalfields, where hardy workers are in high demand.

“I’ve learned you can’t prosper from bad money,” said Elliott, who is serving time for drug trafficking. “An honest living, that’s the only life.”

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UMWA to Congress: Go slow on greenhouse reductions

The House Energy and Commerce Hearings are continuing today on the American Clean Energy and Security Act. This afternoon’s panels include one that focuses on Low Carbon Electricity, Carbon Capture and Storage, Renewables, and Grid Modernization

trisko.jpgAmong those testifying will be Eugene Trisko, a lawyer who represents the United Mine Workers union on global warming issues. I’ll post a link to his complete testimony in a bit, but here’s the summary put out by the UMW’s communications department:

In his remarks, Trisko made it clear that the UMWA believes that “achieving the proper balance among technology incentives and the timing and stringency of emissions reductions will be essential for obtaining bipartisan support for climate legislation.

    “The UMWA recognizes that climate change legislation poses the greatest threat to its membership and to the continued use of coal,” Trisko said. “That is why the union has chosen to engage in the legislative process instead of standing on the sidelines, reduced to throwing rhetorical bombs and engaging in political grandstanding about this legislation.”


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The Ludlow Massacre, 1914


The Ludlow Tent Colony before the massacre on April 20th, 1914. Photo from

My United Mine Workers of America calendar reminds me that today is the 95th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. The calendar describes it this way:

Company gunmen attack a tent colony of striking UMWA families in Colorado, killing 18 men, women and children in the Ludlow Massacre.

There’s actually a pretty decent write-up on Wikipedia, and there’s more information available from the Colorado Coalfield War Project.

Also, there are two fairly recent books out about Ludlow and the Colorado mine wars. One is “Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War,”  by University of Colorado historian Thomas G. Andrews. He was interviewed last month by public radio’s Living on Earth, and that piece gives a good overview of the book and its subject. I’m reading Andrews’ book now, and it’s a great read. The other book is “Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West,” by journalist Scott Martelle. I haven’t read it yet, and would be interested in any comments from folks who have.


In response to a recent reader post asking what the United Mine Workers of America’s position on listing Blair Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places, this just came in from Phil Smith, the UMW’s chief media spokesman:

The UMWA supports the listing of Blair Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places. As you and others have pointed out, the UMWA has long supported national recognition of Blair Mountain. UMWA President Roberts has spoken on several occasions about the need for national historic recognition of Blair Mountain, including sending a letter of support for naming the battlefield as a national historic site in 2006. The union was pleased to see the designation by the Keeper of the NRHP last month.