September 5, 2023 - In West Virginia, more than 200 supporters of labor came to Mannington’s Hough Park for the annual AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic Sunday.
The keynote speaker for the event was the newly elected United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International Secretary-Treasurer, Brian Sanson. The Mannington event was his first stop of the day, and members of senior leadership fanned out over the region and Midwest to show respect and appreciation for union workers.
“We celebrate Labor Day all weekend long, actually,” Sanson said. We’re in Mannington, southern West Virginia; we’re in Illinois; we’re in Indiana; and we’re in Pittsburgh celebrating today.”
Sanson said one of the most important obligations they have to the membership is to fight for fair wages and benefits. The influences placed on the job market by the quickly changing economy require labor leaders to make sure companies not only understand the challenges faced by workers and their families but insist they take action.
“Coal miners deserve to make more money than what they were making anyway, and now what they’re making, if you base it on inflation, you’ve got people making $15 an hour in convenience stores,” Sanson said. “These companies have to realize that, and they have to compensate these coal miners.”
The energy transition on the national stage is a concern, according to Sanson. Policies on the far left are too market-restrictive and possibly premature as alternatives to fossil fuels are developed. Sanson said they are in the fight for the coal miner, and it is a much different struggle than the debate centered around coal.
“If the folks on the right would treat workers a little better and care about them instead of the coal companies, then there’s common ground,” Sanson said. But they back up into their respective corners, and you can’t get them out.”
Energy policy will change, and other sources of energy could be developed, but coal and the need to fight for workers will not end. Sanson said in other parts of the world, coal-fired power plants are being built regularly, signaling future decades of demand.
“The truth is the mines are not going to shut down; there’s going to be a market overseas,” Sanson said. “These companies are just adjusting their business model right now to ship everything overseas because other countries aren’t doing what the United States is doing.”
In June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that companies can sue unions for economic damage caused by labor strikes by a vote of 8-1. Sanson said unions nationwide are under even greater assault with these anti-labor rulings.
“I hate to be the one to break this news to the highest court in the land, but a strike is designed to cause economic damage in order for workers to get a raise when the company is unwilling to do so.”