UMWA Members Back on the Hill: Silica Dust Kills

SOME LAWMAKERS ARE TRYING TO STRIP FUNDING FOR REGULATION THAT WOULD PROTECT MINERS FROM BLACK LUNG

 

On June 30, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a proposal by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to amend current federal standards to better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards related to exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. The proposed rule change would ensure miners have the same protections as workers in other industries. The proposed draft rule would cut allowable silica dust levels in half. It has taken more than two decades to get a draft of new silica limits to the White house for review.

Fast forward four months, in a gut-wrenching, heartless move to every working miner in our country, Congressman Scott Perry (R-PA) introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill, H.B. 5894, for the Department of Labor. The amendment would strip funding for the pending regulation. In his amendment, the Congressman asked that no money for the Department of Labor be spent enforcing new silica standards during the current 2023/2024 fiscal year. When asked by a reporter what blocking implementation of MSHA’s new rules would mean for coal miners, Representative Perry replied, “What coal miners?” The White House released a statement opposing the bill because it would also make cuts to education and health.

“Representative Perry and others in Congress have the power in their hands to support regulatory changes that will keep workers safe and healthy,” said President Roberts.

“Congressman Perry and anyone else who agrees with his misguided amendment, must be living in the dark about the critical needs of tens of thousands of their constituents. I have said many times before, elections have consequences. The UMWA will support candidates that support us, and Congressman Perry is anything but that,” Roberts said.

 

UMWA Members Back on Capitol Hill Reminding Congress That Silica Dust Kills

 

On December 5, 2023, more than a dozen UMWA members, proudly dressed in their camo shirts, walked the halls of Congress reminding Congressmen and women that silica dust kills, and we must not let elected officials strip away protections of the nation’s coal miners.

Local Union 1247 member Tim McCoy, one member who seized the opportunity to educate those in Congress, said, “They have never had to see a family member or a friend struggle with black lung. They don’t understand and, quite frankly, I don’t think they care what it does to a person.”

Local 2300 member Tony Rosky, who has been on Capitol Hill more than a dozen times in the past decade, knows all too well how things happen in Washington. “I was in D.C. too many times to count when we were fighting for the preservation of our pensions and health care. It was important to lobby with my fellow brothers and sisters because people are dying from black lung disease. Congress needs to understand that. I want to help any way I can,” said Rosky.

“Silica dust is more hazardous to the human body than coal dust. Cases of black lung that are commonly linked to silica exposure, have more than doubled in the past 15 years,” said President Roberts.

“The UMWA has advocated for and strongly welcomed MSHA’s announcement this past summer that it would put in place new requirements aimed at significantly cutting the allowable level of silica dust exposure in coal mines. The Agency has also called for improving mine ventilation to ensure the minimization of the spray of silica dust. They have done a lot of good things for miners, but there is a snag.

“MSHA needs approval from Congress to fund the implementation of new regulations. As we see more and more miners fall ill to silica dust, some in Congress are defying common sense and decency by blocking funding for MSHA’s proposed fixes. We cannot allow that to happen,” Roberts said.

 

Please note a retraction from the 2023 September/October UMW Journal: the UMWA did not endorse Geno Gallo (D-PA) for Allegheny Fayette County Commissioner.

An Interview with President Roberts

 

The Journal:

You have just been elected to your seventh five-year term, after already being recognized as the longest serving officer in UMWA history. How do you feel?

 

President Roberts:

I feel extremely blessed. I want to thank Brian Sanson, members of the International Executive Board and District Representatives and congratulate them on their election. I also want to thank the membership for giving us this opportunity and entrusting us with this great responsibility.

 

The Journal:

Speaking of the election, this is Secretary-Treasurer Brian Sanson’s first official term. What makes Brian a good fit for this role and what impact do you see him having for workers and their families?

 

President Roberts:

I appointed Brian as Secretary-Treasurer in 2021 with the approval of the International Executive Board, and he has now been elected to a full term. Brian is extremely intelligent and has worked very hard on behalf of the members of this union for many years. He established and ran the Patriot VEBA, which paid health care benefits for thousands of retirees while we fought to win the pension and retiree health care legislation in Congress. He has learned under the guidance of the most knowledgeable negotiators in the UMWA and has participated in significant sets of negotiations we have had.

Most importantly, Brian has the ability to step into the President’s role if that need ever arises. I hope it won’t anytime soon! But if it does he can do the job.

 

The Journal:

Many people have lost their jobs, benefits or both in the past few years due to companies using bankruptcy laws to get out of obligations to workers and retirees. Can you speak a little on that?

 

President Roberts:

Bankruptcy is a terrible plague in this country. Workers who have worked for companies for 40-plus years are losing their jobs. Retirees who were promised health care and a pension suddenly have those benefits stripped away by a bankruptcy judge.

We have laws in this country that are supposed to protect workers, but it turns out that bankruptcy law overrides labor law. Unions are having to fight tooth and nail to provide the benefits our members thought were guaranteed by law. What’s wrong with workers asking for what was promised to them by the corporations they work for? A promise is a promise, especially when it is written into a collective bargaining agreement.

Furthermore, what is the point of securing legislation if members of Congress can create new laws to get rid of those promises? We need politicians who will protect workers and fight to change these bankruptcy and labor laws that are destroying the labor movement in this country.

 

The Journal:

The workers at Warrior Met in Alabama were on strike for almost two years, going back to work last spring. What is the current status?

 

President Roberts:

We have secured the jobs of strikers who have not secured jobs elsewhere. Many obtained jobs at one of the other union mines in the area and others got employment elsewhere and decided not to go back to Warrior Met.

It’s important to remember that the entire Alabama political and judicial structure supported Warrior Met Coal. They have not only allowed, but aided in, the recruitment of coal miners from out of state to replace Alabama workers. The governor ordered the state police to escort scabs across the picket line. Judges prevented our members from picketing at mine entrances. The state legislature passed laws that were aimed at destroying the right to strike.

In June, 2023, more than two years after we filed unfair labor practice charges against the company, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) judge found Warrior Met guilty of not bargaining in good faith. Even so, they are still not bargaining in good faith, nor is the NLRB handing down any penalties for not doing so.

We have kept our promise to the workers who were unfairly terminated by the company by continuing to fight until we get every member back to work. We will not be silenced until this issue gets resolved in favor of the workers at Warrior Met.

 

The Journal:

The members of Local Union 717 in Ilion, New York, have been dealt more devastating news recently. What is the current status of Remington Arms?

 

President Roberts:

The Ilion, New York plant has been providing jobs and fueling the local economy since the 1800s. In June, 2023, Local Union 717 members ratified a new contract that brought an end to our struggle to preserve jobs at Remington, that began when Remington filed bankruptcy in 2020. But now, just a few months later, the company has decided to abandon the plant in Ilion and move to a new location in Georgia.

This is frankly outrageous. Moving an entire plant takes months and years of planning. The company had to know this was coming, but they never said a word about it at the bargaining table. That’s bad faith bargaining, but once again the laws in our country are failing workers and their families. There needs to be legal repercussions placed on companies in situations like this and there just isn’t. We have filed unfair labor practice charges against the company, so we will have to see where that leads.

 

The Journal:

Black lung disease has been plaguing coal miners for decades. We know how to prevent it, yet miners are still getting it. What is the status of our fight for workers regarding this devastating illness?

 

President Roberts:

There has been an alarming rise in pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, in younger miners. To this day, there is no cure for the most deadly form of progressive massive fibrosis, other than a lung transplant costing up to one million dollars.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is in the final stages of creating a Rule that will, for the first time, put limits on the amount of silica dust that can be in a mine atmosphere. Silica causes the most severe form of Black Lung. The new Rule will be good protection for workers to have to fight coal companies that don’t follow the law.

Workers are encouraged to stand up for health and safety issues on the job, and the union will be right beside them. And this is another example of why politics matters to workers. We need to have people in office who will supportus and help us keep our jobs safe.

 

The Journal:

What does you foresee for 2024?

 

President Roberts:

We can’t look at where we are going without first looking at where we have been. Securing the healthcare and pensions for 100,000 retirees was a massive victory for the union and we are proud of that accomplishment. But these issues are not going to go away. What Congress does, Congress can undo. The same goes for state legislatures. This is an election year. People need to remember who is on the side of the workers and vote accordingly.

Bankruptcy laws and labor laws continue to change in favor of corporations and against workers. The labor movement needs to be prepared for those battles. I know the UMWA remains a fighting union with the greatest members in the world and who understand the importance of workers’ rights. We will continue to face every battle head on to provide workers and their families with the health care, pensions and safe working environment they deserve.

 

The Journal:

Is there anything else you would like to add?

 

President Roberts:

In the words of John L. Lewis, “I derive my strength from the membership of the UMWA.” We have lost many good union men and women this past year, members who were stalwart fighters for this union. The UMWA sends our thoughts and prayers to the families of those lost loved ones.

Our members remain the American troops of the labor movement. They have boarded on buses year after year, traveled from city to city, and walked mile upon mile in the halls of Congress. We will continue to fight when and where we have to on behalf of our members. May God bless every UMWA member and their families.

Actively Retired – Phil Camden

Image of Local Union 2236 President Phil Camden.

Phil Camden, the current President of Local Union 2236, boasts a remarkable three-decade tenure as a dedicated member of the UMWA. Initially employed at Dunn Coal and Dock for 13 years, he transitioned to the role of District 17 Field Representative in 2001. Subsequently, he assumed the position of District 17 Representative, a role he fulfilled with unwavering commitment until his retirement in December 2016.

“Phil is the kind of member that is always around and actively looking for ways to help the union and its members,” said International District 17 Vice President Brian Lacy.

“He has assisted in organizing drives, served as a bus captain for rallies year after year, and supported the fight for pensions and healthcare from start to finish.” 

Beyond his official roles, Brother Camden remains deeply engaged in union activities. He plays a crucial role as a member of the Pensioner Leadership Committee, regularly participates in Ohio and West Virginia COMPAC meetings, and endeavors to attend as many local union meetings in District 17 as possible.

“Phil has done almost any job or task you could imagine,” said President Roberts.

“He has worked in the mines, worked in the field for District 17, worked for the International Office, and remains active in his retirement. I see him everywhere I go in District 17. He is President of the oldest local in the District, which is also my local union, which was charted in 1903. That should tell you how experienced he is.” 

“The UMWA treats me so well,” said Phil Camden.

“President Roberts, Secretary-Treasurer Sanson, and the entire membership are people I can truly call my friends. Anything I have ever needed, they have helped me with, so rightfully so, I do the same for them to the best of my ability.”  

Local Union 4826, Working for You

 

Sitting just off Industrial Highway in Caldwell, Ohio, is International Converter, a leader in foil laminates, high-quality packaging, and more.  The work that UMWA members of Local Union 4826 do at the plant has made the company a global leader in manufacturing.  

Image of the front of the International Converter building.
The front of the International Converter building.

Billy Wheeler, who has been the local union president since 2011, said he is proud of the work the membership does at the plant.  “If every household opens their pantry at home, I almost guarantee that one of our products is in there,” said Wheeler.  

“Pringles, Jiffy Pop popcorn, and pasta bags are just a few of the popular materials we manufacture.  I take pride in knowing that we serve not just our local communities but around the world.  It’s simple things that most households have and use every day of their lives, and it’s done right here at the plant,” Wheeler said.    

The company sets a high standard for the products it produces and has a set of principles to ensure a common-sense approach to the management of business activities to consistently achieve customer satisfaction.  That is exactly what the members of Local 4826 have been able to achieve.

Image of Jiffy Pop produced by UMWA members.
Pictured is just one of the many materials produced by UMWA members at the plant in Caldwell, Ohio. Jiffy Pop is a unionized snack enjoyed by millions around the globe.

“I can’t say enough about the hard work and dedication of our members at International Converter.  I am truly amazed at some of the products they produce,” said International District 31 Vice President Rick Altman.   

“I’ve been to the plant on several occasions and many of the products are on display.  If someone told me our members produced some of the materials, I would have never believed it.  I am very proud of the work they have done and continue to do.”  

Whether you are walking into a grocery store, a medical facility, or a pharmacy, you have inevitably been in contact with materials that are manufactured at International Converter.  “Not only do our members of Local Union 4826 provide a service to consumers worldwide, but they also provide quality products to all of us locally and most of us probably don’t even know it,” said President Roberts.  

 “Our members are working for us every single day, and they do an outstanding job,” Roberts said.  “We are proud of each of them for the extremely hard work they do to provide basic household amenities to all of us.   We are all honored they are a part of our diverse membership of the United Mine Workers of America.”

 

Image of Local Union 4826 members.
Local Union 4826 members

 

Frontier No. 1 Mine Victims Remembered 100 Years Later

Image of the entrance of the Frontier Number 1 Mine after the explosion.
The entrance of the Frontier No. 1 Mine after the explosion.

 

On August 14, 1923, the Wyoming towns of Kemmerer and Frontier the devastating news that an explosion occurred inside the nearby Frontier No. 1 Mine, killing 99 miners. As always happens, the tragedy left children, wives, and mothers left behind to deal with the aftermath.   

That fateful morning, 136 men reported to the mine for their shift.  That was only half of the miners who would have normally reported to work; newspapers reported that other half took a holiday that day.  At approximately 8:30 a.m., a terrible explosion ripped through the mine. Only 36 miners came out alive.  

Immediately following the 1923 explosion, the United Mine Workers of America sent a donation of $10,000 to the families of the miners to help them rebuild their lives. But the production of coal in Kemmerer never stopped.  

“It is ironic that members of Local Union 1307 are still producing coal on the same mountain range as the Frontier Mine,” said International District 22 Vice President Mike Dalpiaz at the memorial service recognizing the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. “It is the oldest active working local union in the UMWA.  Because of the sacrifices the miners made back in 1923, safety laws have improved over the last century.   

“We will never forget our fallen brothers who perished that day,” Dalpiaz said. “The UMWA was there for the families when this terrible explosion occurred, and we are still here today honoring the sacrifices those miners and the generations who came after them made to provide a better life for their families.  No one should ever have to go to work and wonder if they are going to return home to their loved ones.

 

Image of members of Local Union 1307 performed a gun salute.
Members of Local Union 1307 performed a gun salute during the ceremony.

 

“Ninety-nine men went to work that day and never returned home to their families,” said President Roberts. “ Imagine a community that had such a small population in these small nearby towns and 99 were killed in an instant.  This is just one of countless tragedies in our nation’s coal mines throughout history,”  

“The union has fought with blood, sweat, and tears for safer mining conditions for decades, and we will never stop fighting,” Roberts said. “I have often said to the families who have fallen victim to these terrible tragedies that their loved ones did not die in vain because every coal miner working in America today enjoys the benefits of safer and healthier workplaces because of the brave men and women who have lost their lives.” 

Eighty-three of the 99 men who died in the explosion are buried in the Kemmerer cemetery.  During the commemoration ceremony, each of the graves had a flower placed on it, the National Anthem was sung and a flag ceremony was held by American Legion local veterans, most of whom are Local Union 1307 members.  A 21-gun salute was performed before a prayer was said and each of the names of the 99 miners who died were read aloud.  Per tradition,  the UMWA placed evergreens on each of the graves in honor of the fallen miners.  

“To the family and friends of our deceased brothers, we send our heartfelt sympathy in this sad hour of affliction and bid them look to God for His tender mercy, for He alone can give them consolation,” Dalpiaz recited from the UMWA Burial Service during the evergreen ceremony.  “And now, our fellow workers, we bid thee a tender and loving farewell.”

 

Image of International District 22 Vice President Mike Dalpiaz speaking.
Members of Local Union 1307 Executive Board and International District 22 Vice President Mike Dalpiaz honored the victims of the 1923 explosion.

 

Victims of the Frontier No. 1 Mine Explosion.

Alego, Angelo

Alego, Joseph

Andreatta, Joe

Andreatta, Louis

Baba, K

Bebber, A

Bebber, E

Berta, George

Brall, Tony

Cappelli, W. E

Castagno, John

Cavecchio, Livio

Christensen, Carl

Christian, John

Citerio, Mike

Coli, John

Coli, V

Desanti, Enrico

Dodorico, Felix

Dodorico, Oswaldo

Dujinik, Paul

Erickson, Eino

Erikson, Matti

Essman, George

Eynon, Frank

Faustino, Val

Fantino, Marco

Forsman, Emil

Fortunato, D

Georges, John

Girardelli, Ettore

Grutkoski, John

Hagi, C

Hagi, T

Hasoda, M

Hill, Mike

Hobara, H

Itow, K

Jarvie, August Sr

Kanada, T

Kangas, Henry

Kare, Eino

Kawahara, K

Kawase, S

Kiddy, John

Kirino, K

Kojima, K

Kozaki, I

Kovach, Joe

Kusnirik, Mike

Loddo, Fred

Lopez, Juan

Lupcho, George

Lupcho, Andrew

Lupcho, John

Magnino, John

Magnino, Mark

Martini, Frank

Martin, John

Masaki, S

Mendini, Crillo

Metsala, Hjalmar

Metsala, Matt

Mikami, S

Miura, F

Motoh, Joe

Menapace, Ottilio

Navarro, F.T

Oyama, S.,

Palavar, Masu

Palmyra, Pretari

Pellegrini, Carl

Pernice, Marion

Pierone, John

Pinamonti, S

Rankin, Thomas R

Roberts, Isaac

Roberts, Louis

Roberts, Thomas

Rodriguez, Joe

Rollo, Joe

Sanchez, Tom

Sager, John Sr

Sager, John Jr

Savant, John

Smith, Nick

Takasugi, G

Tinpanio, Louis

Toresani, Louis

Trujillo, Robert

Valeriono, Valle

Vito, Tony

Wainwright, Joe Sr

Wainwright, Joe, Jr

Walton, J. A.

Warhol, Paul

Wormer, George

Zumbrennen, John A

Zumbrennen, John

Local Union 1387 Union Hall , A Living Testament to Generations of Miners in Canmore, Canada

It is a season of rebirth for the old Local Union 1387 building, in the bustling town of Canmore, nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.  Canmore had once echoed with the voices of miners who toiled deep in the earth and the building had stood as a testament to their struggles and triumphs for generations, a symbol of unity and strength.

Local Union 1387, founded in 1905 as part of District 18, had been the backbone of the miners who worked for the H.W. McNeill Co., operating the mines for the Canadian Anthracite Co. For years, they fought for workers’ rights, fair wages, and safe working conditions. The Union Hall, a place where they gathered, planned, and found solace in one another’s company, was a cornerstone of their community.

The building’s construction began in 1910 and took three years to complete. It was a grand structure, built with pride and purpose. For decades, it served as a hub for the miners and their families. It was where they celebrated victories, mourned losses, and forged lifelong friendships.

But in 1979, the mines closed, leaving the Union Hall in disarray. The heart of Local Union 1387 seemed to wither away, like the coal seams they had once dug. The building stood silently, a witness to the passing of time.

In 2013, a ray of hope pierced through the darkness. The people of Canmore, recognizing the historical significance of the building, rallied together to restore it for its 100-year anniversary. The renovation project breathed new life into the old Union Hall, ensuring that it would stand for another century as a testament to the strength and resilience of the mining community.

“The 2013 restoration of this historic facility celebrates 100 years of service of the Miners’ Union Hall to the community of Canmore,” a plaque proudly declared, commemorating this monumental achievement.

In 2022, the Town of Canmore dedicated the building as part of the Canmore Heritage Festival. The local community celebrated its rich history and the enduring spirit of the miners who had once called this place home.

Today, the old Local Union 1387 building stands proudly, owned by the Town of Canmore, and maintained and operated by dedicated volunteers. It has been transformed into a venue for meetings and social events, serving the needs of the modern community while never forgetting its storied past.

As the UMWA International visited this summer, the building resonated with the echoes of its history. It stood not just as a structure of bricks and mortar, but as a living testament to the generations of miners who had fought for justice, dignity, and a better life for themselves and their families. The old Union Hall had been rejuvenated, and in its halls, the spirit of the miners lived on, a beacon of unity and strength in the heart of Canmore.

MSHA Announces Proposed Silica Standard for Miners

A patient testing for Black Lung disease at the Rasmussen Black Lung Clinic in Beckley, West Virginia, October, 1976

 

The resurgence of coal miners suffering from Pneumoconiosis or Black Lung disease in the last several years, and significantly in younger miners, are subjecting them to a shortened and debilitating existence.  The disease destroys the body and leaves many to die a suffocating death.  For decades, many denied that the condition even existed even though there are thousands of recorded deaths of the horrific disease.   

Miners and advocates have been lobbying and rallying the 1960s for laws and regulations regarding Black Lung.  In the 60s, women were at the forefront of the fight as many of them were left to watch their husbands suffer for years from the disease and in most cases, die.  In the 70s, miners from across the United States came to rally in Washington, DC to support the nation’s first federal Black Lung legislation.   

When the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 passed, it provided for monthly benefit payments to coal miners who were completely disabled as a result of Black Lung, to the widows of coal miners who died as a result of the disease and to their dependents.  Several amendments have been made to the Act in the 70s, early 80s and as recently as 2010.  

In 2018, data from Black Lung clinics across Appalachia and studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) revealed the unprecedented reoccurrence of Black Lung in younger, less experienced miners who had contracted the disease at a significantly earlier age than the generation of miners before them.

 

Research and Findings of Silica Exposure

NIOSH, along with researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago looked at the records of 235,500 deceased miners and described it as “the largest study of its kind to date.”  The study found that mortality had worsened over time with modern miners facing greater risk than their predecessors.  It also found that miners in the Central Appalachian areas of eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia faced the most severe risk.   

The study found that ‘progressive massive fibrosis’, which is only caused by dust inhalation, was also more frequent in younger age groups and it appeared likely that coal mine dust inhalation also contributed to their increased burden of nonmalignant respiratory disease.   

In 2022, it was reported by Dr. Robert Cohen of the University of Illinois-Chicago that exposure to toxic rock dust appears to be “the main driving force” behind the recent study of severe Black Lung disease among coal miners.  The study examined the lungs of modern miners compared to miners who worked decades ago.  This provided the first evidence of its kind that silica dust was responsible for the rising tide of advanced disease, including miners in Appalachia.  

 “This is the smoking gun,” Dr. Cohen said.  Up to now, there has been indirect evidence of the link, but this study went further, testing lung tissues for the concentration of silica particles.  “It turns out we were right.  The pattern of pathology was very, very consistent with silica,” said Cohen.  

Cohen’s study specifically looked at contemporary miners with severe disease and what was lodged in their lungs compared to older workers who also had severe Black Lung disease.  Among their findings was that the more contemporary workers (born after 1930) had more silica in their lungs than the miners who were born between 1910 and 1930.   Cohen urged the federal government to toughen Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations on silica dust in mines.  

The University of Illinois Chicago/NIOSH study additionally found coal miners, particularly those exposed to silica dust, had significantly increased odds of dying of lung cancer compared with the general U.S. population.  

“The study proves what we have been saying for years,” said President Roberts.  “Today’s miners are contracting lung diseases at an alarming rate. 

“I testified before Congress in 2019 on this exact issue and nothing was done until now,” Roberts said.  “Finally, four years later, we have a proposed rule to limit the level of silica dust in mines, meaning that miners will no longer be subject to breathing in microscopic rock particles that will never leave their lungs,” Roberts said.

 

President Roberts testifies on Capitol Hill on the issue of silica exposure in miners on June 20, 2019.

 

“I commend all those who have been fighting so long to see this day come; most especially the miners who contracted this insidious and always-fatal disease, their spouses and their children.  While they have borne the brunt of the disease, they have never lost their will to fight to see that no one else ever gets it.”  —Cecil E. Roberts— 

 

MSHA’s Proposed Silica Standard

On June 30, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a proposal by MSHA to amend current federal standards to better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards related to exposure to respirable crystalline silica (silica dust). The proposed rule change will ensure miners have at least the same level of protections as workers in other industries.   

“Workers in other industries have long been protected from excessive exposure to silica dust, but miners were not.  Finally, the government is taking steps to protect our nation’s miners,” said Secretary-Treasurer Sanson.  

Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson said the purpose of the rule was simple; prevent miners from suffering from debilitating and deadly occupational illnesses by reducing their exposure to silica dust.   

The proposed rule would require mine operators to maintain miners’ Permissible Exposure Limit to respirable crystalline silica at or below 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air for a full shift exposure, calculated as an 8-hour time weighted average.  If a miner’s exposure exceeds the limit, the proposed rule would require operators to take immediate corrective actions to come into compliance.   

“While the UMWA commends MSHA for this proposed ruling, there is still more work to be done,” said Sanson. “This is only the first step of many more that will be required.  We must get this rule finalized as soon as possible, and we also need to ensure that mine operators follow the rule and the government enforces it.”

 

  • MSHA’s proposed respirable crystalline silica rule would apply to coal mines and all metal and nonmetal mines 
  • The proposed rule would impose significant administrative and technical requirements on operators and lacks Table 1 type of porvisions that would help operators maintain compliance while providing for appropriate protections of miners 
  • The final rule would become effective 120 days after its publication in the Federal Registrar 

EPA Proposes New Carbon Pollution Standards for Coal-fired Power Plants. What it means for UMWA coal miners.

On May 11, 2023, the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and natural gas-fired power plants that they say will protect public health, reduce harmful pollutants and deliver up to $85 billion in climate and public health benefits over the next two decades.  In reality, a newer version of the Clean Power Plan (CPP).  This will be a fight the UMWA will take on all over again.   

The proposed rule will cause even more job losses in our nation’s coal-producing areas without any real prospect of any new substantial job creations.  There is a real concern about the proposed rule landing at a time when the promises of job creation and job retraining in the coalfields remain little more than words on paper.  The so-called just transition that simply does not exist.   

The new proposal comes nearly a decade after a finalized version of the rule (CPP), which would have taken a system-wide approach to pollution reduction by forcing plants to use more renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

 

UMWA has significant concerns with the proposed rule

“The next round of coal-fired power plant closures is coming but the coal-producing areas of the country are still reeling from the last round and are not prepared for this one,” said President Roberts.  

“We have long said that if there are no new jobs for displaced coal miners to step into when their coal and coal-related jobs are gone, then our government will have failed, once again, an entire region of our nation.  While there has been a promise of new jobs, it seems that is all it is, a promise.” Roberts said.  

The UMWA has been asking for the development of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technology to be commercially applied to coal-fired power plants for well over a decade, to no avail.  The CCS technology would not only preserve coal mining jobs but it is the only way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in the long term.   

“While we appreciate the attention the proposed rule gives to CCS technology, we would point out that nearly two years after the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) was passed that allocated billions for the construction of commercial-grade coal-fired power plants to demonstrate that CCS can work, not one shovel of dirt has been moved to actually begin construction,” said President Roberts.   

“The proposed rule for CCS application to coal-fired power are ambitious, to say the least, especially when factoring in the lag in the development of technology on a commercial scale, we have a hard time seeing how this will match up in real-time,” said Roberts.  

Under the proposal, new and existing gas plants running regularly would have to capture 90 percent of their emissions by 2035.  Existing coal-fired plants slated to run into 2040 would have to capture 90 percent by 2030.  Gas plants expected to operate for decades could comply with the rule by co-firing with low-emitting hydrogen, gradually ramping up to a 96 percent hydrogen blend by 2038. 

“The UMWA intends to submit our comments regarding the proposal in the next few weeks.  We intend to fight the newly proposed EPA power plant rule just like we fought the CPP.  We do not intend to leave any UMWA worker behind and the government shouldn’t be in the business of allowing thousands of workers and their families to lose their jobs either,” Roberts said.

 

UMWA members and International staff were back on Capitol Hill in July to urge Senate members to confirm Moshe Marvcit to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

 

Legal woes hang in the balance?

Having rolled out its strongest proposal to date to slash global-warming emissions from power plants, the EPA must first face off with the courts.  According to legal experts, this will be no easy feat.   

The earlier version of the proposed rule, the CPP, which would have taken a system-wide approach to pollution reduction by forcing plants to use more renewable energy, is a regulation that never took effect because of years of legal challenges.  It was ruled out of bounds just last year in the case of West Virginia v. EPA 

The new power plant proposal will likely face the same or similar legal challenges as 2015’s CPP.  The EPA will first review public comments on the proposal and will ultimately issue a final version of the rule.  The proposal is scheduled to be finalized by June, 2024 but could take longer if the White House or Congress changes hands next year.  

In the case of West Virginia v. EPA, Chief Justice John Roberts outlined the limits of the EPA’s powers to force coal retirements, a stance that will likely be under scrutiny with the new proposed rule.  

In Chief Justice’s written brief, he stated, “Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible solution to the crisis of the day.  But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.  A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”  

Legal experts say the Supreme Court’s guidance in the West Virginia case and the presence of new climate legislation from Congress could help the agency survive yet another legal fight over its approach to slashing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.   

Depending on the length of time it takes for the EPA to complete its final rule, the regulations could be at risk, depending on the outcome of the 2024 election

 

Organizing for the Future

 

Since the beginning of our Union in 1890, the UMWA was built on the fundamental philosophy that every person should have the opportunity to belong to a union, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, or gender.  Those basics still hold today as we move forward to a prosperous future.

At the UMWA’s 56th Consecutive Constitutional Convention in June 2022, we laid out a plan to Protect, Grow and Celebrate! We have and continue to protect our members’ jobs and our retirees’ pensions and health care, which is to be celebrated. Now our focus must be growing our union. That means we must organize, and we must do it now.

“Workers are organizing all across the United States and Canada,” said President Roberts.  “Starbucks, Amazon, college students and more are standing up and saying, “We want to join a union.”  The United Mine Workers needs to have a part in that.  To survive in the long term, we must grow our membership.”

“Collective bargaining is how working people gain a voice in the workplace,” said Secretary-Treasurer Sanson.  “In case all of the multibillion-dollar corporations have yet to take notice, workers are demanding union representation, but that does not mean organizing has become any easier.”

“Aggressive campaigns and anti-union lobbying have stopped workers’ rights to organize in many places,” Sanson said.  “But workers continue to fight back. The UMWA is joining that fight.

 

Organizing training was held at the District 17 office in Charleston, WV on April 18, 2023. Photo credit Kris Mallory.

 

“We will use our resources to educate workers who want a voice in the workplace and who want to organize with the UMWA,” Roberts said. “Every worker has the right to join a union, whether you are a miner, a manufacturing worker, a public employee, a warehouse worker, or a barista.”

”We already have an extremely diversified membership that includes miners, health care workers, corrections officers, EMT, and more.  We need to capitalize on our diversity to continue the growth of our union,” Roberts said.

On April 18, 2023, an organizing training class was held at the District 17 office in Charleston, West Virginia.  The training was based on the AFL-CIO’s instrumental organizing software, Action Builder.  This follows on the heels of several training sessions that were held in 2022 in Alabama. Even during the 23-month strike against Warrior Met Coal, the union knew it had to be just as focused on organizing new members.

Changes in the energy marketplace, overly-aggressive government regulations, and decisions by electric utility companies about future power generation have radically altered the coal industry and the jobs that are available in it. “Rank and file coal miners have become scarcer than ever in the United States.  Fewer hourly coal miners are working in the country today than at any time since the federal government began keeping statistics more than a century ago,” said President Roberts.

“For every single direct coal job that has been lost, four other jobs have disappeared, meaning a quarter of a million jobs have already been lost throughout the coalfields. We are going to continue working to organize coal miners, but we must also look outside of the coal industry to grow our membership for a sustainable future,” Roberts said. “That is the charge the delegates to the convention last year gave us, and that is what we are going to do.”

 

Members Speak on the Importance of Organizing

Local Union 1638 member Zach Stevey has been working in the state of West Virginia for nearly a year helping to organize state employees into UMWA Local Union 154.  The local consists of workers from the Department of Natural Resources, the Office of Mine Health, Safety and Training, the Department of Highways, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Division of Forestry, and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Local Union 154 held a meeting on April 27, 2023, to discuss how to grow the membership in their local.  “The time is now to focus on workers who need our help,” said Stevey, who served as the Organizing Committee Chairman at the 2022 Convention.  “They don’t just build a coal mine every day anymore, so it’s time to branch out and see who fits best within our union.”

“We want to help workers who want our help and who want to join a union, and the West Virginia employees are just that.  They are eager to build up the membership in their new local, and we will be working with them in the upcoming months to achieve that goal,” Stevey said.

 

Local Union 1638 member Zach Stevey was the Chairman of the Organizing Committee at the UMWA’s 56 constitutional convention in Las Vegas, Nevada in June, 2022. Photo Credits: Earl Dotter.

Local Union 1638 member Ryan Sparks, has also spent the better part of a year organizing of West Virginia state employees.  From the northern panhandle, the eastern panhandle to the southern part of the state, rank-and-file organizers have been speaking to state employees and getting new members to sign their authorization cards.

“Expansion is crucial for all unions right now,” said Sparks. “This is a time where so many workers want and need a union so we’ve been trying to stay ahead of the game.”

“With our industry under attack like it has been for over a decade now, we need to think about the future of our union and if expansion outside of the coal industry is what it has to be, then we are going to make that happen,” Sparks said.

 

Local Union 1638 member Ryan Sparks. Photo Credits: Zack Stevey.

 

Local Union 154 Financial Secretary Steve Bowles is eager to see the newly developed local expand.  “It has been going really well so far.  I started out as a member of UMWA Local 1582 and was the financial secretary for that local as well,” said Bowles.

“Unlike some of our other potential members who are state employees, I have experience as a UMWA member,” Bowles said.  “I feel as though I can bring knowledge and express a positive message to anyone who wants to join our local.  We had our first local union meeting last month and we had good participation.  I think we are going to be a good, strong local.”

In 2022, more than 16 million workers in the United States were represented by a union; an increase of 200,000 from 2021.  At the same time, the share of workers represented by a union declined from 11.6 percent to 11.3 percent.  How is it possible that unionization levels increased but unionization rates decreased in 2022? More jobs were unionized but nonunion jobs were added at a faster rate.

“I’ve said this many times before but maybe it needs to be said again to anyone who is willing to listen,” said President Roberts.  “Unions take bad jobs and make them into good jobs.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

“The PRO Act is our next frontier” – Richard L. Trumka

 

Passing the PRO Act Now!

The right to form a union is one of the most fundamental rights afforded to all workers in the U.S and Canada.  But for decades, unions have been under attack through union-busting tactics and outright illegal acts by large corporations. All workers have paid the price. The Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would make illegal many of the preposterous acts by employers against their employees who want to join a union, and make the penalties for employers who cross the line much tougher.

 

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 05: Richard Trumka, President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), speaks during a press conference advocating for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in the House of Representatives later this week on Capitol Hill on February 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. The PRO Act would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and is backed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) unions. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

 

“Congress should listen to what American working families are saying to them.  It is very clear that the number of workers who want to join a union is at the highest level it has been in decades,” said President Roberts.

“Passing the PRO Act would hold employers accountable for violating workers’ rights, empower workers to exercise their right to organize, as well as secure fair union elections,” Roberts said.  “It would also eliminate state right-to-work laws.

“Right-to-work laws are the most misnamed laws on the books,” Roberts said. “They have been promoted by a network of billionaires and special interest groups to give more power to corporations at the expense of ordinary workers. In every state where they have recently been put into place, wages have gone down, health care coverage and other benefits have been eroded.”

The PRO Act recognizes that employees need the freedom to picket or withhold their labor in order to make their voices heard at the workplace.  It also protects employees’ right to strike by preventing employers from hiring permanent replacement workers. In addition, it allows unrepresented employees to engage in collective action or class action lawsuits to enforce basic workplace rights, rather than being forced to arbitrate such claims alone.

“I have said it before, and I will say it again, because that is how important this legislation is.  There has not been any meaningful Labor Law reform passed by Congress since 1935. That was 88 years ago and we are still trying to bring a greater level of fairness into the workplace.  That is just wrong, Roberts said.

“History has proven that when workers come together in solidarity to collectively bargain, they secure higher wages, better benefits and safer working conditions, not just for union workers but for all workers.”

“Brothers and sisters, it is time for organized labor and workers across this country to stand up and fight back and elect people to office that believe in the right to join a union. It is time for Congress to act now and pass the PRO Act.” – Cecil Roberts

 

Organizing is the Key to our Future

The words of John L. Lewis ring true, more now than ever: “Let the workers organize.  Let the toilers assemble.  Let their crystallized voice proclaim their injustices and demand their privileges.  Let all thoughtful citizens sustain them, for the future of Labor is the future of America.”

At a time when union elections have been the highest in more than 20 years, there is no better time than to meet the demands of American workers.  In the first half of 2022 alone, unions won 641 representation elections.

The UMWA has several organizing efforts underway, including public employees in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, hospital nurses in Southwest Virginia, manufacturing workers in several states, miners in New Mexico and working to reinstate our membership in the Navajo Nation after newly-elected President Buu Nygren agreed to recognize the union and proceed with negotiations.

“Brothers and sisters, let’s organize the organized.  That has been our motto since John L. Lewis spoke those famous words,” said President Roberts.  “Let’s build each other up and expand our membership for the prosperity of our future.  The time is now.”

 

Workers have Spoken!  We Want a Union!

“The labor movement is organized upon a principle that themstrong shall help the weak.  The strength of a strong man is a prideful thing, but the unfortunate thing in life is that strong men do not remain strong.  And it is just as true of unions and labor organizations as is true of men and individuals.  And whereas today the craft unions of this country may be able to stand upon their own feet and like might oaks stand before the gale, defy the lightning, yet the day may come when those organizations will not be able to withstand the lightning and the gale.  Now, prepare yourselves by making a contribution to your less fortunate brethren….Organize the unorganized”    —- John L. Lewis

Brother Marlin Bennett: 50 Years of Dedication to UMWA Local Union 1656

 

In the heart of the Canadian mining town of Hinton, one man stands out as a symbol of unwavering commitment to his trade and community. Brother Marlin Bennett, an active miner at the Hinton Mine and the embodiment of solidarity, recently celebrated an incredible milestone – receiving his 50-year membership pin from UMWA Local Union 1656.

Brother Bennett has spent the better part of his life mining coal, but his story is not only about his impressive half-century of mining; it’s about the commitment to safety and community that has been the cornerstone of his career.

For the past 25 years, Brother Bennett has been the safety chairman for UMWA Local Union 1656. It’s a role he takes with the utmost seriousness, knowing that the lives of his fellow miners depend on it.

Brother Bennett’s deep-seated dedication to safety is rooted in his upbringing. His father worked with the Department of National Defense and instilled in him, from a young age, the importance of looking out for one another and following stringent safety protocols. 

This invaluable lesson has guided Marlin throughout his life, making him a steadfast advocate for safety in the perilous world of mining.

When asked about his motivation to work in the mine, Bennett said, “I wanted to be closer to home and provide for my family. But more importantly, I never once questioned joining a union. It’s a brotherhood that has my back, and I have theirs. We’re all in this together.”

UMWA Local Union 1656, to Brother Bennett, is not just an organization; it’s a way of life. “You know, these younger miners, they are really missing out by not being a part of the United Mine Workers. It is truly the best union in the world,” he said, with a sense of pride that only a half-century of experience can bring.

Brother Bennett’s 50-year membership pin is not just a symbol of time served; it’s a badge of honor, marking a lifetime dedicated to the well-being of his fellow miners and the resilience of UMWA Local Union 1656.