Coal miners union urges Joe Manchin to support the protections BBB offers them

Coal miners union urges Joe Manchin to support the protections BBB offers them

When Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and his allies defend his opposition to parts of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda — including his opposition to the Build Back Better Act in its current form — they often stress that his priority is West Virginia voters, not progressives in Brooklyn or San Francisco. And to be sure, West Virginia is a deep red state that former President Donald Trump won by 39%. But some of the criticism of Manchin is coming from within his state, including coal miners who are members of the United Mine Workers of America.

In the socialist People’s World, reporters Mark Gruenberg and John Wojcik explain, “Those miners in his home state are parting ways with the senator over his stubborn opposition to and sabotaging of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. It’s a significant development considering how Manchin has bent himself over backward to do everything he could do, in recent years, to boost miner pensions, health care and black lung disease mitigation programs. It is significant then that the UMWA, the very day that Manchin declared himself a ‘no’ on Biden’s Build Back Better plan, came out with its statement demanding the passage of Build Back Better. They were backed, of course, by the national AFL-CIO, the large labor federation to which they belong.”

The UMWA, founded in 1890, has been around for 131 years.

In an official statement, MMWA President Cecil B. Roberts said, “We urge Sen. Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families and our communities.”

Manchin has had a long career in West Virginia politics. The 74-year-old Democrat served in the West Virginia State Legislature in the 1980s and 1990s (first the West Virginia House of Delegates, then the West Virginia Senate) before becoming West Virginia’s governor in the 2000s and later, being elected to the U.S. Senate. And over the years, Manchin has described coal miners as an important part of his voting base.

According to Gruenberg and Wojcik, “While the news coverage of the battle over Build Back Better has emphasized the struggle between moderates and progressives in the Democratic Party and the pressure progressives are putting on Manchin, the campaign mounted now by the miners may, in the end, be the thing that gets Manchin to move. The miner’s campaign is significant too because on the issue of saving coal jobs, they have often been on the same side as the companies. Now, however, as they break ranks on BBB, they are also beginning to break ranks on questions about the future of the coal industry itself.”

One of the important parts of the BBB is the fact that it addresses the need for green energy programs. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have stressed that as more and more coal mining jobs disappear, coal miners deserve to be trained for new jobs in green energy.

“More and more miners are accepting the idea that the coal industry is eventually going to be replaced, and the West Virginia AFL-CIO has been urging them to support BBB measures that it says will help protect them during the transition away from coal and to clean energy that will provide many good jobs in the state,” Gruenberg and Wojcik observe. “The BBB bill, a ten-year rewrite and upgrade of the nation’s frayed social safety net, contains many benefits for coal miners and their families, Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, a fellow West Virginian, told Manchin in the union leader’s formal statement.”

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