JOE JURCZAK, a Pennsylvania coal miner, is lying on a bed in the Quality Inn on Scott Circle, wearing only cutoff shorts and a cast over the whole length of his left leg. He is exercising the injured leg from the hip, up-down, up-down.
"A mine injury?" someone asks.
"He would like you to believe that," says the young man across the room, a stocky, soft-spoken fellow with glossy black hair and mustache. "But it's what is known as tennis knee."
The speaker is Richard Trumka, whose stunning, two-to-one upset victory on Nov. 9 had brought him to Washington as the president-elect of the United Mine Workers of America. In a show of rank-and-file democracy rare in organized labor, this upstart from Nemacolin, Pa., had overcome the opposition of organized labor, the coal industry and the incumbent.
Here is the same "insurgent" leader who inspired a Merrill Lynch analyst to warn investors that a Trumka administration likely would be so disruptive it would "set the coal industry back substantially" in both coal export sales and jobs; the same fellow whose critics suggested in radio ads that he might be controlled by the Soviet Union.
But many in Establishment Washington have been surprised to find instead that this blow-dried, plump-cheeked paragon is a player. One of "us."
These are not the miners of romantic proletariat lore. Trumka has a degree in accounting from Penn State and a law degree from Villanova. He made his advanced education a major part of his campaign pitch. Now, as his aides rush about their makeshift transition headquarters in adjoining hotel rooms, he sits sipping coffee, almost motionless, speaking in the pinched tones of an exhausted athlete.
When he is installed today by one of the nation's oldest industrial unions, he will be, at age 33, the youngest leader of a major labor organization in America.
Jurczak, 34, who grew up with Trumka and is heading his transition team, has a bachelor's degree. Joe Corcoran, 35, a coal miner serving as Trumka's press spokesman, has a master's degree in psychology and uses words like "gestalt." Most of Trumka's staff and running mates, who are about to move from their transition quarters in the inn to the UMW headquarters on 15th Street, are young and college-educated and--a point of pride--all miners.
Today's battles require not so much muscle and blood, they argue, as the paper skills of the board room, the bureauracy, the courts and the legislatures. They will need all those skills and then some.
John L. Lewis, the union's fire-breathing leader for 40 years, the Shakespeare-quoting "labor statesman," consort of presidents, might not recognize his old turf today.
The UMW, once-mighty furnace of worker's progress, capable of shutting down a vital industry, has seen its power crumble away. It has failed to organize new mines opening in the West, so that UMW miners now produce only 44 percent of the nation's coal, compared with 70 percent 12 years ago. Its membership, 400,000 in 1922, is now 230,000 including 70,000 pensioners.
It has been wracked by scandal, the turbulence of wildcat strikes, political murder, internal division and mine disasters. The current recession has put one-third of its active members on layoff or short work weeks. And, despite the sometime oil crisis, old king coal has not regained its status as an energy source.
Trumka and his team are impatient with public ignorance about coal miners and the perpetuation of their image as dirty, uneducated, brawling, fearsome, pitiable hicks. The Trumka forces say that incumbent president Sam Church (dubbed "Sellout Sam" by critics), besides being a bumbling bargainer and organizer, tended to reinforce this stereotype.
The image of the miners as "these wonderful Appalachian characters," an image to which many still cling, no longer applies, says writer-editor Tom Bethel who, during the UMW reforms in the mid-1970s, served as UMW research director.
Of the UMW's 160,000 active miners, more than half are under 34 years old. Many have some college education. The work--though still dirty and dangerous--is increasingly technical and automated, and it pays better than some other work available these days to college graduates. Some miners earn more than $100 a day--an achievement for which Church justifiably claims credit.
A union adversary on the coal industry's management side, speaking of the UMW contest: "There was a tendency by reporters to try to recreate the old days" of Tony Boyle's presidency, of corruption, violence and redbaiting. "In fact," he added, referring to the recent political fight between two senators to head the Republican campaign committee, "this one was more like the fight between Richard Lugar and Bob Packwood."
"We would like to see the old stereotype destroyed, to see it gets a proper burial," Trumka says. "Miners are a very technical, proud people."
Indeed, Rich Trumka's personal style is not so different from that of many white-collar workaholics who mine the political seams of bureaucracy. Fueled by the coffee that he chain-drinks, he likes to get going before dawn and often goes with little sleep. This he demonstrated dramatically in his breakneck, dawn-to-dawn campaign sweeps to the miners' far-flung bathhouses and union halls throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and other UMW strongholds, including parts of Canada.
He neither smokes nor drinks alcohol and, until his Thanksgiving week marriage to a coal miner's daughter, he lived with his parents. For relaxation, he likes to hunt deer and small game in the Pennsylvania mountains.
He expresses disgust and amazement at the charges that he is a "militant" or any kind of "loose cannon." On the other hand, he adds, "No one's ever accused me of being a pussycat."
He likes to keep his private life private and he seems most at ease talking about his plans to expand union services, step up union political activity and his role as an apostle of black gold.
"We can meet the needs of the world," he says with fervor, referring to the opportunity represented by shifting markets abroad. In the United States, he means to "push strenuously to make government give more than just lip service to a coal policy" that will take advantage of the vast array of energy possibilities he sees in coal. In speaking of the "staggering" uses of coal, he says: "It amazes me that during World War II, Hitler was able to run a war machine on manufactured coal. The technology exists . . ."
Some people say now that they had him spotted as a comer early on. But, as an industry official put it, "What surprised everybody was the speed of Trumka's rise."
A descendant of Polish (on his father's side) and Italian (on his mother's) immigrants, Richard Louis Trumka was born and raised in Nemacolin (pronounced like semicolon), a village of well-cared-for homes, perched on a ridge over the khaki-colored Monongahela River.
It's a cut above the typical mining town. When Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. opened its Buckeye Mine there in 1918, it decided to build what was to become a model mining community, complete with electricity and indoor plumbing, a school, a theater and bowling alleys. Many of the 400 two-story houses it built 60 years ago look like new today. Some, including the Trumkas', still wear a coat of blackish creosote preservative, but others are painted pastel colors.
The road to the Trumka home goes over "Jew Hill," named after the merchants who set up shop there, and down past "Bosses' Row," the larger houses. On a white water tank that overlooks the town, according to local lore, mine owners in the 1920s mounted a machine gun and spotlights to prevent union organizing activities. Trumka's grandfathers were among the union activists evicted for a time from their homes by the company police--"yellow dogs" to the miners.
The workers' lives in the early days alternated between brutal, sunless work for low pay in the underground mines that surface on all sides of the town, and periods of strikes and depressions when they couldn't work. They had no unemployment insurance, no black lung benefits. Their dinner-pail diet leaned heavily on such standards as "miners strawberries" (beans) and "water sandwiches" (stale bread soaked in lard).
Until he rocketed to hometown hero status here recently, Trumka was remembered as just one of a tightknit bunch of boys who grew up in the neighborhood, ran their dogs in the woods and gulches, chased rabbits, swam, and played ball in a coal-studded clearing now in the shadow of a mountainous gray slate dump. These days, Trumka, Jurczak and others from the bunch are house hunting in the Washington suburbs.
"He was an ordinary boy," says his mother Eola. "Kind to animals, loved to talk to old people."
The living room of the small, comfortable Trumka home, paneled in wood and finished with lace doilies and both real and plastic flowers, is cluttered now with tributes -- ceramic figures, plaques, scrapbooks--sent to the president-elect by well-wishers. The Trumkas keep the lights turned off in the daytime unless somebody needs to read. In one corner is a tall, glass-front case of Richard's collection of hunting weapons and hats.
Eola is a warm, no-nonsense woman wearing, this winter day, a bright red dress for her trip to the hospital to see her ailing husband.
Her lips tighten in anger at mention of the charges circulated by Sam Church supporters that Trumka could be the pawn of some kind of pinko outsiders, or that he would foster disruptions that would hurt miners.
That talk, she says, is the direct cause of the heart attack that Trumka's father Frank suffered last spring. He was in the hospital again, briefly, due to complications.
Like many of the mine families descended from European immigrants, the Trumkas speak of the importance of the political process and their pride of citizenship.
"The miners never believed it the charges ," she says. "He didn't have any skeletons in his closet. There's no scandals that they could find. So they had to go and invent them."
Those charges stemmed in part from the worker disruptions associated (also wrongly, say Trumka allies) with Trumka's running mate Cecil Roberts. A Vietnam veteran, he too reacts angrily to such talk.
There was another charge against Trumka, which he dismissed as a clerical error. An early biographical summary stated that he was a Phi Beta Kappa, but he wasn't. "He corrected it himself when he saw it," his mother says indignantly. "Anyway, whoever heard of making an issue about a fraternity. Only the top 10 percent of the nation get in that fraternity. And he did pull the 4.0's . . . in college."
Eola has been active in community affairs. Her son says he inherited his energy mostly from her. "I'm really a piker compared to her. She's up before me, goes to bed after me."
What is life liable to be like for her new daughter-in-law, formerly Barbara Vidovich of Adah, Pa.? "I told him he ought to get somebody who could cope with it. He's gonna be hassled all day." Eola says. "He don't want to be hassled all night . . . He's been dating her for eight years, so I figure she must know what she's gettin' into."
Trumka set his course when he was in the eighth grade, he says, during the 1950s when another round of depression was ravaging the coal fields. He remembers sitting one day with his maternal grandfather, Attilio Bertugli, on the front porch of the old man's house overlooking the river where the coal barges sometimes drifted past.
"The miners were on strike, and it seemed to me that as usual they were getting the short end of the stick. I wondered, you know, what I could do to help the coal miners. So he said to me, 'Look around you. Who are the people who are able to help the mine workers?' I answered, 'Politicians?' And he about backhanded me . . . He said, 'No, lawyers. If you really want to help, get yourself a legal education.' "
So, while many of his buddies stayed in the mines, Trumka went to college. He returned to work in the deep mines during some summer vacations to earn money for school, and later after each of two stints on the union's legal staff, for a reported total of about seven years underground. He knows what it is, he says, to see a friend killed before his eyes in the mines.
Church has tried repeatedly, without success, to prove that Trumka never worked long enough in the mines to qualify for union office.
The miner-lawyer, as Trumka is often called, first came to Washington to work on the union legal staff in 1974.
The UMW, meanwhile, was on an unhappy odyssey from the autocratic rule of Lewis to that of the felonious W. A. "Tony" Boyle, to the murder of union dissident Joseph Yablonski that sent Boyle to prison.
Trumka arrived here in the wake of the reformist crusade of the Miners for Democracy (MFD), which had attracted a number of activists, some veterans of the civil rights and antipoverty battles of the 1960s. Boyle referred to the MFD as the "Moscow Fire Department." Disenchantment with the post-reform leadership of Arnold Miller soon followed. Then, under Church, there was scandal at the UMW-founded National Bank of Washington.
Trumka's ambition was apparent, according to some who worked with him here then. He returned to Pennsylvania, to the mines and to union politics.
The fact that Trumka wore a three-piece suit during his bitter, year-long campaign to defeat the overall-clad Church generated the biggest media fuss over threads since Pat Nixon's cloth coat.
To many miners, the significant thing was not the suit, but the fuss.
Gerald "Cabbage" Onderko was born two days after Rich Trumka in Nemacolin. ("We're both Leos.") They were part of the hometown gang and stayed friends through the years when Trumka was becoming a lawyer and Onderko remained in the mines. A tall, affable mechanic, Onderko is, like many miners these days, laid off. He served as Trumka's driver during the campaign. One afternoon as he looked out over the surface quiet of a mine tipple, to the river beyond, he spoke with real agitation about the true import of Richard's style of dress.
"It's time to get rid of this image of some guy dirty all week 'til the weekend. Sure you get dirty down here, but they have bathhouses and you get clean, you put on clothes . . . We don't feel weird in suits.
"I took a trip to Florida once, you know. I'm sittin' there at the hotel by the pool--my daughter's swimming in the pool--and I'm sittin' there with a stockbroker and a woman doctor. It come to my turn, to say what I was. I said I'm a coal miner. And he looked at me and he said--'You people's crazy!' I tried to explain that was just the image they portray of us on TV.
"He was scared of me. Myrtle Beach, same way. I had some guy scared of me at Myrtle Beach."
Eola Trumka gets downright angry when she talks about it. "I went to New York and coal miner was a dirty word," she says, her voice rising.
"You know," she says, "Richard has always been taught there's certain places you should be dressed up in a suit. And clean. I always tell him to have a lot of underclothes with him, and change often. Cleanliness is very important. Especially your underclothes."
"That suit," says Onderko, "That's his work clothes now."