Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, addresses a labor rally of Friday, April 1, 2011 in Waynesburg, Pa.(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Say what you want about my friend United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts, but you pretty much always know where he stands.
Except when he writes op-eds like the one in today’s Gazette, in which he makes like a Chamber of Commerce leader and slams the Obama administration’s effort to keep reducing deadly pollution from coal-fired power plants:
Just as our economy is beginning to climb out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a variety of new rules that will inevitably lead to large-scale unemployment and massive rate hikes over the next several years.
… Tens of thousands of jobs will be lost in the utility, coal and transportation sectors. Hundreds of communities will suffer as their tax bases shrink with the closure of nearby utility plants. Industrial states that were hit hard by the recession and still suffering from high unemployment will take another, needless hit.
Now, there are folks in the regional and environmental community who will immediately jump on this as typical stuff from the UMWA. These folks remain increasingly bitter that Cecil Roberts won’t join their fight to stop all mountaintop removal (or maybe all surface coal-mining).
That wouldn’t be fair.
Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic. All of the publicity about the upcoming march to urge protection of Blair Mountain reminds me of when I met Cecil, more than 20 years ago.
It was the summer of 1989. Cecil was vice president of the union, leading its strike against Pittston, fighting for the health-care benefits of UMWA retirees and widows. It was a young intern at the Gazette, and somebody thought it was a good idea to let me cover the strike (one joke in the newsroom that summer was about how, if there were any trouble on the picket lines, I wasn’t on the company’s health-care plan). UMW leaders were re-enacting the march to Blair Mountain to draw attention to their fight with Pittston (subscription required).
One thing I learned that summer was how so many UMWA fights were not really about the working miners who were doing the fighting, but about either protecting the union’s retirees or trying to ensure a better life for their kids.