United Mine Workers of America, AFL-CIO, CLC

For Immediate Release
April 26, 2004
Contact: Pete McCall , Doug Gibson

United Mine Workers of America Endorses John Kerry for President

Cites Commitment to Providing Retirement Security and Health Care for All Americans And Promise of Effective Enforcement by MSHA of Coal Miners' Health And Safety Protections as Union's Primary Reasons for Endorsement

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil Roberts announced today that the union has endorsed Democrat John Kerry for President. The endorsement comes following a unanimous recommendation to back Kerry from UMWA Coal Miner Political Action Committees (COMPAC) nationwide.

"Our COMPAC representatives met with UMWA rank-and-file and retired members in their regions, formed a consensus and reported back to us with a recommendation," explained Roberts. "In this case, it was unanimous that John Kerry receive the UMWA's endorsement. Senator Kerry has committed to work with us to find a long-term solution to the Coal Act's funding problems, and our members believe he will do a better job protecting coal miners' health and safety and will be more interested in the issues important to all working and retired Americans."

Roberts explained that one of the primary reasons UMWA members support John Kerry is because they want someone in office who can end what they say has been a recent systematic rollback of health and safety protections for working coal miners by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

"In the past three-and-a-half years, the federal agency charged with protecting coal miners' health and safety has done a poor job," explained Roberts. "The only segment of the mining industry where the death toll rose last year was in coal mining. But even given that reality, MSHA has actually ended regulatory action on 17 rules, most of which were designed to improve miners' health and safety conditions. The UMWA is also deeply troubled that MSHA did not heed our call to re-open its investigation into the causes of the terrible explosions that took the lives of 13 UMWA coal miners on September 23, 2001, in Brookwood, Alabama. This was the worst coal mining tragedy in more than two decades, yet the testimony of some 50 witnesses was dismissed by MSHA. This is very troubling to us. People need to understand that throughout the UMWA's 114-year history, the backbone of our great union has been our ability to ensure America's coal miners have the best health and safety protections they can while at work. Unfortunately, this agency has been a huge disappointment. We feel MSHA will operate much better under John Kerry."

Roberts highlighted several of the proposed rules that MSHA, under the direction long-time mine boss David Lauriski, has halted since 2001.

"There was a rule NIOSH recommended that would have reduced dust in the mines, but it was withdrawn by MSHA," said Roberts. "Then the agency introduced its own rule that would have increased dust levels. UMWA miners lined up in droves to testify against it because they understand that more dust means more cases of black lung, which still kills more than 1,000 miners every year." Roberts also singled out MSHA's withdrawal of an important air quality rule that would have helped better protect underground coal miners. A federal court recently ruled that the agency acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" when it withdrew that rule.

"The UMWA understands that President Bush himself cannot oversee the day-to-day operations of the many federal agencies under his direction, but we do need someone in office who will take appropriate action–or instruct others to–when there are obvious problems," said Roberts. "That is not happening at MSHA."

Roberts added that the UMWA believes the Bush Administration has appointed far too many present and former mining industry officials to both MSHA and the federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which decides all Mine Act cases regarding safety violations and other legal matters.

"The deck has certainly become increasingly stacked against working miners in the past few years," said Roberts.

Roberts took time to address claims by some that John Kerry will be a foe of the coal industry and miners because of his past environmental stands.

"I would advise anyone questioning John Kerry's commitment to coal and coal miners to simply visit his website and read his coal policy," explained Roberts. "There you will see that coal will continue to remain a central component of America's energy policy, and that Kerry wants to allocate $10 billion over the next decade towards upgrading the nation's power plants to burn coal in a cleaner way. Burning coal more cleanly will mean a greater acceptance of coal as America's primary energy source, which could translate to an even greater use of coal and the employment of many more coal miners." Roberts added that President Bush is committing less money to clean coal technology than Kerry.

Finally, Roberts concluded that like many of the unions which have already endorsed John Kerry, the UMWA strongly believes he is the best person to advance the cause of working Americans across the country.

"John Kerry wants to work towards providing health care for the 44 million working and retired Americans who currently have no insurance," said Roberts. "He also wants to create American jobs instead of shipping them to other countries, where labor and environmental standards are loose or non-existent. He will not attempt to cut a worker's right to overtime pay, and he strongly supports a worker's right to organize. John Kerry is simply the best candidate for working Americans."