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Former UMWA President Sam Church dies

July 14, 2009
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Sam Church

Former United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Sam Church died early this morning in Bristol, Va., his family announced today. He was 72.

“Today is a very sad day for the UMWA family,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said today. “The hearts and prayers of every UMWA member are with Sam’s wife, Patti and his son, Nathaniel.

“Throughout his life, Sam Church’s dedication to the UMWA and all working families never wavered,” Roberts said. “UMWA widows have a pension today because Sam won that benefit at the bargaining table. He stood tall for miners afflicted by the scourge of black lung disease and insisted that they receive compensation for their illness, and that mine operators and the federal government take action to reduce exposure to the dust that causes black lung.

“Sam and I stood side by side during the Pittston strike, and we came to be close friends over the last 20 years,” Roberts said. “Sam did not stop being a leader in our union once he was no longer President. He continued to remain active in the affairs of the union, particularly with respect to our political and legislative activities in Virginia. We shall miss him terribly”

“Sam never stopped fighting to restore the right to organize, for better health care for working families and pensioners, and for safe and healthy workplaces,” UMWA Secretary-Treasurer Daniel J. Kane said. “All UMWA members and their families owe Sam a debt of gratitude for his dedication to the union and the principles that guide us.”

“Sam was a good friend and a good labor leader,” UMWA President Emeritus and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka said. “He was a union man from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. He will be greatly missed.”

Born in Matewan, W. Va., in 1936, Church began working in the mines in 1965 at the Clinchfield Coal Company in southwestern Virginia. He quickly rose through the ranks of his local union and was tapped to join the UMWA’s headquarters staff in 1975 by then-President Arnold Miller.

Church was elected Vice President of the union from 1977-1979, and rose to UMWA International President in 1979 after Miller resigned due to health reasons. Church remained UMWA President until 1982.

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