Coal miners want young workers in Appalachia to have a future, and they want politicians to know that they aren’t just going to “go away” because of anti-coal sentiment due to global warming. That was the message from United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts at a National Press Club event this week.
Coal miners just want a president who will care about their interests, save their pensions, and not write them off as “uneducated…just because they don’t like what we do.” But coal miners aren’t sure 2020 Democratic candidates — or President Donald Trump — will fight for them.
“Everyone running for office wants a picture with us, but then they don’t want anything to do with us when they get in office,” Roberts said.
But coal miners feel like both Democrats and Republicans have abandoned them, which they feel is unfair given that coal currently produces one third of the nation’s electricity.
“We believe young people working in the mines should have a future, which by the way, if you live in Appalachia, are the best jobs in Appalachia,” Roberts said. “People are constantly saying, ‘Well, we’re just going to do away with these jobs.’ These miners have families at home. Retirees have pensions at risk. Most of them in Appalachia are worried about this ongoing debate. It’s hard for coal miners to have a voice in this country because many people look down their nose at us, what in the world could someone who mines coal have to say? And some people think maybe we should keep our mouth shut and get out of the way.”
Roberts and his fellow miners are especially concerned about the Green New Deal, and some of the other aggressive climate change policies proposed by 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls. In July, the UMWA called the Green New Deal “almost impossible,” and also invited 2020 Democratic candidates to go underground at a coal mine and get to know the workers and the industry.
At the National Press Club event, Roberts said the Green New Deal’s 10-year timeline “is almost impossible to do,” but he hasn’t given up hope that coal miners can convince progressives to come to some sort of compromise.
“We have had discussions with folks who are advocating this,” he said. “I’m not angry at anybody here, I’m a great respecter of AOC (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), she met with us, she supports our pension. People are saying, ‘We’re willing to talk to you.’ We’re here to say, ‘We’re not going away, we’re going to be part of this conversation one way or another.'”
But right now, Trump still has the advantage when it comes to getting coal industry votes in 2020. Roberts still believes Trump “loves” the industry because Trump supports coal miner pensions. He even called on Trump to tweet about the issue to draw legislative attention to it.
“He said he felt coal miners who felt entitled to pensions would have it,” Roberts said. “I’m pleading with him to do that. When you’ve got 34,000 coal miners who have passed away, you know their widows, you know their kids. I’m asking the president today to consider tweeting for the coal miners of this country.”
Roberts thinks the industry can figure out how to “burn coal cleanly,” and chastised Democrats for banking on a Green New Deal to stop climate change without holding the rest of the world to such a standard. For example, there are currently 52,000 coal miners in the U.S. compared to 5 million in China. There are 7 million globally.
“When people say all we need is more Democrats, well, we’ve been down this road, and this failed,” Roberts said. “We need to develop technology to remove carbon from the removing of coal, or we are never going to resolve climate change. Never. There are 1,600 coal-fired power plants being constructed as I speak, around the world. There are 2,000 coal fire plants that exist in the world as I speak. I’m telling you what you’re doing doesn’t work. How are you going to get China?”
The UMWA hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate yet. Presidential hopefuls Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are cosponsors of the American Miners Act, which would protect coal miners’ pensions, which Roberts said is a huge priority for his members. In 2016, Sanders fought for coal miners’ pensions in the Senate and recently visited coal miners to discuss how his climate change policies would affect them. Sanders also fought NAFTA, which the UMWA said was “horrible,” but so has Trump.
The UMWA Twitter account criticized Sanders in 2016 over his climate change policies, and in August retweeted a tweet from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) which read, “@realDonaldTrump, I know you love our country’s brave and patriotic coal miners. We need your support to pass the #AmericanMinersAct that will secure our retired miners’ pensions & healthcare.”
Despite unions’ tendency to vote Democrat, Trump’s 2016 campaign promises to restore and protect America’s “legacy” industries — coal, oil, steel and manufacturing among others — prompted many union members in those industries to vote for him, including the coal industry, and most Trump voters are satisfied with his leadership.
Union membership has declined over the last 50 years, hitting a record low in 2018. According to The Wall Street Journal, Democrat-supporting unions are working hard to convince their members, and even former members, to vote blue in 2020 — with little success, partly because most Democrats’ policies don’t resonate with blue-collar workers, especially policies regarding climate change.
“We want every candidate to understand the plight of coal miners and what this is doing to Appalachia,” Roberts said. “Appalachia is struggling mightily.”