Labor Day Picnic Returns to Mannington, WV, UMWA's Roberts Addresses Large Crowd
September 6, 2022 - For the first time in two years the United Mine Workers of America celebrated Labor Day with a traditional summer picnic.
Longtime UMWA President Cecil Roberts celebrated with nearly 500 people at Hough Park in Mannington Sunday, reminding them about the role of the union.
“They take bad jobs and make them good jobs, they take low paying jobs and make them high paying jobs, Roberts said. “We take jobs without healthcare and create healthcare and we take jobs without pensions and create pensions and you don’t have to look any further than the coal industry.”
Roberts noted in the 10 years leading up to the 2020 pandemic an estimated 40,000 coal miners lost their jobs. The current partnership with cobalt-free battery maker SPARKZ is a promising development to allow miners facing job loss to maintain their standard of living.
“When those jobs go away people go out into the workforce and generally take a cut in pay and a cut in benefits and have much less of a lifestyle than they had when they had that union job,” Roberts said.
On the subject of the Inflation Reduction Act, Roberts said it’s about time lawmakers in Washington D.C. pass legislation with what he described as “a real West Virginia flavor to it.” He said lowering the cost of prescription drugs and healthcare coverage are two very impactful things for residents of Appalachia. Roberts also said the coal tax included in the legislation and opposed by the West Virginia Coal Association is not a new tax, rather it restores funding for Black Lung benefits.
“I disagree with the industry that this is a new tax,” Roberts said. “You can’t call something that’s been around since the mid-1980s a new tax, or doubling their tax, it was just simply reinstating what they’ve been paying all along.”
Roberts said portions of the bill that promote alternative energy options are not in conflict with union priorities. The bill helps keep the supply chain for solar and wind energy components secure while putting those displaced miners to work.
“What this bill does is say- let’s build those products here in the United States,” Roberts said. “Let’s give these jobs to unemployed coal miners and unemployed steel workers.”
Roberts acknowledged the prices for coal are at the highest levels he’s seen. While some of the demand is due to the unavailability of European energy assets, he said the demand for coal and steel has been increasing steadily.
“The demand for steel and the price for this metallurgical coal been this way for a couple years now,” Roberts said. “Steam coal lagged behind that for a little bit, but the price of steam coal and metallurgical coal are going to stay there for awhile because there’s such a demand for energy in our country.”
Roberts will highlight a list of speakers Monday at the union’s annual Labor Day picnic at Racine in Boone County.