National Press Club

Miners’ union leader wants government to protect benefits, address climate change via carbon capture

September 4, 2019 | By Anne Bader | anne.bader@gmail.com

Mine Workers Union President Cecil Roberts gestures at a Headliners Newsmaker event on Wednesday..

Mine Workers Union President Cecil Roberts gestures at a Headliners Newsmaker event on Wednesday..

Photo/Image: Al Teich

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts advocated government support of miners, lauded the history of his union and acknowledged climate change at a National Press Club Headliners Newsmaker on Wednesday.

Roberts called for repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which restricted union activities and allowed union shops only if a majority of employees voted for them, reforming U.S. bankruptcy laws, and protecting pension benefits that average $596 a month for retired miners.

He said that more than 34,000 workers have died in the mines and 76,000 died of pneumoconiosis since 1968.

Roberts promised to thank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., publicly if he passes legislation to protect miners’ pensions and fully funds an account that provides medical care and some living expenses for miners diagnosed with black lung disease.

“Coal is not back; plants are closing all over the United States," he said, refuting claims made by President Donald Trump. "Our transition has been in the bankruptcy courts. We don’t have enough friends on Capitol Hill."

As plants have closed, the union has trained 17,000 miners at its career centers for more than 25 years for new jobs that pay $14 per hour, less than half of what they made as coal miners, he said.

Roberts said that his union has never denied climate change and stood "ready to assist in the development of climate legislation that advances technology, protects workers and their communities and moves the nation forward on an aggressive course of carbon mitigation while ensuring electric reliability."

He called on the federal government to develop technology to capture the carbon emissions generated by burning coal.

And he said the burden of reducing emissions shouldn't fall solely on coal miners. For example, he said, China last year used 4 billion tons of coal a year.

“How are we going to get China with 5 million coal miners to act on climate change versus 52,000 coal miners in the United State?” he said.