By Conor Griffith
November 2, 2018 - With excitement and a spirit of optimism and solidarity, the United Mine Workers of America swore in its new officers at West Virginia's Morgantown Event Center Thursday morning.
The union’s International President, longtime member and Vietnam War veteran Cecil Roberts was re-elected and sworn in during the ceremony, along with Levi Allen, the organization’s international secretary-treasurer from Marshall County.
Daniel Kane swears in UMWA's new international officers.
Photo by Conor Griffith
Other UMWA international officers sworn in included the first woman elected to such a position, Tanya James, the new auditor/teller East.
The other officers sworn in were Chuck Knissel, District 2 vice president; Steve Earle, District 12 vice president; Gary Trout, District 17 vice president; Roy Fernandez, auditor/teller West; Jody Dukart, auditor/teller Canada; Larry Spender, District 20 vice president; Mike Dalpiaz, District 22 vice president; Rick Altman, District 34 vice president; and Donald T. Barnett, James Gibbs and Donnie Samms, at-large vice presidents.
Marion County lawmaker Mike Caputo, who had served as UMWA District 31 vice president, called it “a bittersweet day for me.”
UMWA President Cecil Roberts, a Vietnam War veteran, asked those who served, had a child serving and those with relatives who served in the past wars to be recognized.
Photo by Conor Griffith
“I’m retiring (from mining), so I didn’t run this time,” he said. “But I am so proud of this leadership team. The UMWA, if you look through our history, has been blessed with an abundance of great leaders.”
Caputo said he was confident the new leadership, particularly with the youth and dynamism that Allen brings to the table, will ensure that the fight to preserve pensions and health care for miners and their widows will be won.
“It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog,” Caputo said in reference to the strength of the union being in its commitment rather than numbers alone.
With the midterm elections just days away, politics did surface during the event. The keynote speaker, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, reflected on the 2016 elections and what’s taken place since then. He said organized labor is on the move, whether it be coal miners, communications workers or West Virginia’s teachers. He also pointed out that the UMWA has added 262,000 new members during the past year alone, three quarters of whom are under the age of 30.
“The UMWA is who I am. It’s who I’ll always be,” Trumka said. “No association has given me more pride. You’re the best America has to offer.”
He called on those in attendance to vote for friends of the union and labor, regardless of who the candidates are or which party they run under.
Over the years, the UMWA’s membership has expanded to include educators, hospital workers, corrections officers and others.
Roberts said that in all these occupations, including mining, the labor movement wouldn’t be where it is today without the support and contribution of women. He said that’s something which hasn’t been recognized as it should.
In that spirit of solidarity, he presented the Jones-Blizzard Award (named after labor activists Sarah Blizzard and Mary Harris Jones, also known as Mother Blizzard and Mother Jones, respectively) to Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.
Nelson said she was humbled and grateful.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone in my life who encompasses more feminine and masculine qualities than Cecil Roberts,” Nelson said. “Many of you know what I’m talking about. He has comforted me when I’ve lost someone close to me. He has lifted me up when I had nowhere else to turn. How many of us have had that experience?”
Nelson also said that by working alongside miners, laborers in many industries have the chance to fight for what’s right, noting that the opinions of miners in particular carry a lot of weight and are even capable of changing minds in Congress. This was proven by flight attendants recently being granted 10 hours of rest a day — the same as the deck crew, she said. Flight attendants previously got eight hours of rest a day.
“I was born in a hospital that was powered and lit because you risked your lives underground,” Nelson told the miners.
At the end of the ceremony, Allen and Roberts said the day wasn’t about them, but all the miners and UMWA members.
Roberts said the people in mining communities are among the most patriotic in the nation, and to prove it, he asked veterans in the crowd to stand and be recognized. He then asked those who had a child, niece or nephew serving in the military to stand. By the time he asked those who had a relative who had served in past wars to stand, almost the entire room— a few hundred people — was standing tall.
Roberts concluded the ceremony with a call for unity among all people, regardless of who they are, where they come from or who they pray to — as long as they support workers’ struggle to preserve health care, pensions and safe conditions for miners and their families.
“We’ve got to stop hating each other and start loving each other!” he proclaimed. “Because there’s no room for hate. This is about what’s right for people in America who fought for what’s right in America.”