United Mine Workers President Arnold Miller told Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall yesterday that he has called a series of meetings in the coal-fields today in an attempt to end an eight-week wildcat strike that has idled an estimated 85,000 miners.
Miller said he had ordered district union presidents in West Virginia and Kentucky to call together all local union leaders today to "discuss the situation thoroughly."
They're going to recommend that the men go back to work, and I'm confident they will," Miller said.
Miller made his remarks after an hour-long meeting with Marshall, held amid growing concern in Washington about the wildcat strike which was called to protest cutbacks in union health care benefits.
Marshall, who devoted much of his day to the strike, had called Miller and James P. Brennan, president of the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, separately to his office to discuss the strike and requests for an investigation of health fund operations.
Both Miller and Brennan apparently recommended that no such investigation be launched. Miller said he had asked the Labor Secretary to delay any move until the outcome is known of the meetings in four union districts today.
However, prospects for a quick solution to the wildcat were bleak.
"About 50 per cent of our members are hell-bent on staying out," said Cecil Roberts, vice president of UMW District 17 in southwestern West Virginia, the union's largest and most militant district. "Forty per cent don't know what they want and 10 per cent want to go back to work."
Coal miners in West Virginia, Miller's home area, first left their jobs eight weeks ago after the union announced cutbacks in medical benefits that would require union members, for the first time, to pay part of the cost of hospitalization and health care.
The strike has virtually shut down every mining operation in the state idling some 60,000 miners, according to the West Virginia Coal Association. During the last week, the strike has spread into adjoining coal-fields in eastern Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, increasing official concern about violence and unemployment.
The striking miners have called for a congressional probe of the management of their health funds, and Labor Secretary Marshall has asked them to refer specific allegations to him.
The health funds are managed by three trustees selected by the union and coal mine operators. They are financed by a royalty on every ton of coal mined.
The trustees, acting on a request by mine operators, cut the medical benefits because of an expected fund deficit by December of more than $24 million. The royalties have continued to dwindle steadily ever since as the wildcat strike has idled more and more mines and reduced royalty payments even more.
Miller, whose leadership has been under attack for more than a year, asked miners to return to work last Saturday, a request that was ignored. Yesterday he said he has serious questions about he management of the fund and hospitals where miners go for care, but he said would prefer to investigate them himself.