UMWA’s Project 50 – Volume II

Moss 3 Takeover


Editor’s Note:

Keeping the UMWA’s history alive and relevant is a critical part of the union’s service to its members. If we do not know our history, then the harsh realities we overcame in the past cannot serve to guide us today. That is why we remember events like the Massey Strike, ‘Jobs with Justice’, the Pittston Strike, and many more.

Telling the incredible stories of the brave men and women who built our union is not just an exercise in research. It is an opportunity for us to learn how battles were won, and what it takes to win them again.

This is the second installment of the UMW Journal’s series, Project 50: Struggle and Win.




‘Why Not the Best’ Campaign

On June 15, 1982, the nomination period for the election of International Officers to serve for the next five-year term began. By August 1 of that year the “Why Not the Best” slate, headed by Richard Trumka, Cecil Roberts and John Banovic, had secured the majority of UMWA Local Union endorsements.

In an interview with the UMW Journal in August, 1982, then-nominee for International Vice President Cecil Roberts said, “The labor movement is at a crossroads. I’ve watched workers and their families suffer. People believe the union exists to improve their lives, rather than to have their hard-fought benefits be taken away by greedy cooperations. Now is the time to band together for one common goal: workers’ rights.”

Rich Trumka and Cecil Roberts were two of the youngest union leaders in the country. After nearly two years of campaigning, the ‘Why Not the Best’ team was elected into office on November 9, 1982.

UMWA’s 49th Constitutional Convention

In December 1983, delegates traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the 49th Constitutional Convention. Ronald Reagan was the U.S. President, and his administration was heavily weighted against the labor movement. “The Reagan administration has told you that unemployment is okay and dangerous mines are acceptable,” proclaimed a convention delegate.

“We must stand united,” said Roberts during his speech to thousands of delegates and labor union leaders. “And tell the coal operators in a single voice that the UMWA has a plan for victory, that the UMWA has the preparation and the training we need to come out ahead and that the UMWA will do whatever it takes to win!” The convention targeted health and safety changes, organizing efforts and a plan for the fast-approaching turn of the century.

In that plan, the Selective Strike assessment was created. This included a selective strike fund which would be used only to support members engaged in a selective strike, targeting specific companies to put maximum pressure on operators and allow members the opportunity to vote on a proposed contract based on merit.

The assessment continued until 1995. Because of the strike fund, in 1984, a national contract was negotiated without a strike for the first time in 20 years.


Massey Strike

In October, one month after the BCOA agreement was reached, the UMWA’s national agreement with A.T. Massey Coal Company expired. The company refused to sign the national agreement and a selective strike fund was called against A.T. Massey Coal Company. The UMWA filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to force Massey to bargain.

The unfair labor practice strike against Massey lasted for more than four years. In January, 1989, the UMWA reached a comprehensive agreement in its labor dispute with A.T. Massey Coal Company. It called for $2.4 million in back pay for 92 strikers who were discharged by Massey and a new collective bargaining agreement at five locations. At the peak of the strike, over 2,500 UMWA members were on the picket line.


“Jobs with Justice”

On June 23, 1987, then-UMWA President Trumka, along with the heads of four other major labor unions, announced the kickoff of a nationwide campaign called, “Jobs With Justice”, aimed at restoring workers’ rights. The UMWA attended dozens of rallies, marches, Congressional hearings and press conferences, to demand the right to job security, a decent standard of living, the right to organize and to “stop corporate abuse.” The campaign kicked off in Miami, Florida, on July 29, 1988 where more than 11,000 people were in attendance at the first Jobs With Justice rally to protest the abuses inflicted on working people by corporations and management.

“Unions Fight for Jobs with Justice, twelve major labor organizations launch a new campaign to defend workers’ rights,” read the headline of the August 1987 issue of the UMW Journal. Jobs With Justice remains an active organization focused on the vision that all workers should have the right to collectively bargain. To this day, the 1987 UMWA is active in their solidarity with Jobs With Justice by attending rallies and hearings, and the nation’s entire labor movement is more committed than ever to fight for workers’ rights.


UMWA Calls Selective Strike Against Pittston

On February 1, 1988, the UMWA’s contract with the Pittston Coal company expired, and the company refused to agree to the national agreement. Pittston cut off the health care and death benefits of 1,500 UMWA pensioners, widows and disabled miners. On April 5, 1989, after working without a contract for 14 months, the UMWA called a selective strike against Pittston.

Then-Vice President Roberts was assigned to be the on-theground leader of the strike effort, often referred to as Field General. He was the day-to-day negotiator in the militant and ultimately successful 10-month strike.

“The Pittston Coal Company didn’t understand the Union, the members or the communities where they live,” said President Roberts. “These union members fought all their lives for their health care and pensions and they weren’t just going to give that away.”

The occupation of the Moss #3 Preparation Plant by 100 UMWA members, and subsequent rallies outside the plant attended by thousands, provided the spark that led to the ultimate resolution of the strike. The four-day siege of a Pittston coal processing plant ended the evening of September 20, 1989, when the 99 occupiers of the plant walked out after defying a court order for over two hours. President Roberts carried an American flag, leading out the workers and supporters at the main gate of the Moss No. 3 plant, “We will not go back to Governor Gerald Baliles, Pittston Coal Company and the court system.” Over 5,000 brothers and sisters from unions throughout the U.S. joined the strikers in front of Moss 3. The Pittston strike was a major victory for the UMWA and the entire Labor Movement. “It was never a question of if we would win – it was a matter of when we would win,” said President Roberts.

At its peak in June 1989, the strike involved approximately 2,000 miners, many staying at Camp Solidarity, and thousands more sending donations and participating in wildcat walkouts involving approximately 40,000 people. More than 4,000 people were arrested for participating in nonviolent civil disobedience during the course of the strike, many of them multiple times.


UMWA’s 50th Consecutive Constitutional Convention

In 1990, the UMWA celebrated 100 years since the first gathering of miners in Columbus, Ohio that created an organization to defend workers and their families. Officers and delegates traveled to Miami, Florida that September for the 50th Constitutional Convention. The Pittston Strike in the previous years was both a struggle and a proud victory, providing a pathway for the delegates to make vital decisions looking towards the future. The convention targeted politics, sending out a clear message to elected officials across the nation; we can no longer vote for candidates who don’t support our fight.