Coal Workers Union Doesn't Always Represent Coal Worker Values
GRAYSVILLE, Pennsylvania -- When coal mine employee John Morecraft heard last Monday that United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts approved of President Joe Biden's plan to move the nation's energy industry away from fossil fuels, Morecraft said he anticipated the news would be misconstrued.
"I knew the story would come across as though all coal miners approved of this deal, with no mention of how (un)representative the UMWA is of the coal miner population," said Morecraft, just before going down for his shift at the Bailey Mine here in Greene County.
"The UMWA in actuality represents a small portion of the people who work in the mines," Morecraft said. "What that means is that deal was not made with the support of most of the people who do the work in the industry."
He is not wrong.
According to the latest energy statistics for the U.S. government, there are 6,758 coal miners working underground in this country today who are members of the UMWA, compared with the 24,820 miners, such as Morecraft, who are not members of the union.
The same goes for the surface-mine workforce, where just over 3,000 are members of the UMWA, compared with the nearly 17,000 who are not.
Once a dominant force that represented virtually everyone working in the entire industry, the UMWA membership today is the smallest portion of the mining workforce.
Had you not really followed the decline of UMWA membership over the decades and were sitting at home watching the news reports and thought, "Oh, wow, the coal miners are now backing Biden's 'climate-justice' infrastructure package; maybe it is not that bad," you were misled.
Morecraft said there's another component of the story many people might miss. When deals like this are struck, or union bosses look the other way when the party they support hurts their jobs, he says it shows how the people who negotiate these deals are entrenched within this administration.
Morecraft does not fit any of the stereotypes of coal miners that our cultural curators in the news, government or Hollywood like to cast. He is a college-educated former history teacher who coached both high school football and basketball until he was laid off from his teaching jobs.