UMW Members Are Not Fodder for Anyone


I read with interest the Daily Mail’s Sept. 25 editorial, “Is the union for miners or Obama?”

The Mail completely missed the point of our response to the incident that took place at Consol Energy’s Blacksville #2 mine, where a film crew from the National Rifle Association came on mine property in an attempt to interview UMWA members.

Our members’ reaction to this event has little to do with the NRA itself, or even its film crew. The NRA is free to say whatever it wants about any candidate for office, and has never shown a reluctance to do so, whether what it says about those candidates is true or not.

Likewise, our members are free to say whatever they want about any subject they want, and we have not and do not seek to limit their right to do that.

Anyone who has ever spent any time at a mine portal at shift change knows UMWA members – indeed, all coal miners – are not shy about speaking their minds.

Let me be clear: It was not the union leadership that called for a Memorial Day at the mine, it was the members who work at that mine who asked the leadership to call for it.

That’s how the process for Memorial Days works in the UMWA.

The UMWA members at Blacksville #2 took this action on their own initiative, not because of the NRA’s film crew but instead because someone in company management approved the use of company property for partisan political purposes.

I have no doubt that there are people who work at Blacksville #2 who do not support Barack Obama for president, just as I know that there are plenty who do support him. That is not the issue here.

Our members clearly did not want to be used as camera fodder for any political initiative their employer may support.

We have had conversations with Consol’s management since that time, and we appreciate the fact that the company has agreed with us that allowing the NRA crew on their property was a mistake. Consol has asked the NRA to not use any footage that was shot on their property in any ads the NRA produces.

You ask if the union is “for miners or Obama?” It is precisely because we are for miners that we are also for Barack Obama. Here’s why:

* We believe miners have a right to a safe and healthy job, where the government agencies that are supposed to be watchdogs for safety actually enforce the law instead of coddle the mine operators.

McCain has not said one word about the outrageous lack of enforcement of mine safety and health laws in the Bush administration, while Barack Obama has consistently promised to appoint someone to be in charge of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration who will put miners’ health and safety first.

* We believe miners and their families have a right to health care and retirement security. McCain’s proposals to tax health care benefits and privatize Social Security puts both of those rights at significant risk.

* We believe miners have a right to a job. McCain has, on more than one occasion, written legislation in Congress that would have meant drastic cuts in coal production in Appalachia and a corresponding elimination of thousands of coal miners’ jobs.

Obama has consistently said he supports developing the clean coal technology we need to use coal to generate power in America for decades to come.

There are dozens more reasons why the members of our union voted, through our nationwide internal political action process, to endorse Obama for president.

National polls indicate that more and more Americans, including our friends and neighbors in West Virginia, agree with us that at a time when millions of working families are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and gas in their vehicles, our nation needs new leadership that will be a clean break from the failed policies of the Bush administration and its sidekick, John McCain.

Roberts is international president of the United Mine Workers of America.

(c) 2008 Charleston Daily Mail. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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