The Carter administration and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Edward M. Kennedy today accused each other of doing little to increase domestic coal production and provide jobs for miners.
And many delegates attending the 48th constitutional convention of the United Mine Workers of America said that they believed both sides.
"Everybody expected them to say what they said," said an Alabama UMW delegate. "And everybody expects them to go back and do what they done, not much."
The administration, represented by Assistant Labor Secretary William Hobgood, and Kennedy both tried the hard sell.
In a speech studded with referenced to John F. Kennedy, the Massachusetts senator called the administration "anti-coal," accusing it of "allowing twice as much foreign coal to come into this country" last year as it did two years ago, of favoring nuclear power at coal's expense, and of being nothing more than a Republican administration in disguise.
But when he asked, "Did they tell you that less coal was mined in America in 1978 than the year before?" a number of delegates noted sourly that they didn't have to be told about the drop -- their union's 110-day strike had a lot to do with it.
Hobgood, who spoke several hours before Kennedy, accused him of favoring solar and wind energy over more coal production as the way to meet the nation's energy needs.
We do not agree with the senator," Hobgood said. "Make no mistake about it: Jimmy Carter is committed to coal."
Hobgood said Carter has made major gains for miners since taking office in 1976. He said the president won the fight in 1977 to transfer the Mine Safety and Health Administration from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Labor. The UMW fought hard for the change because it felt that the union would be better represented in the Labor Department.
Hobgood also said the administration won improvement in the black lung benefits for miners and has also pushed hard for coal conversion and electric utility plants and for coal-based synthetic fuel production.
"We don't ask you for blind loyalty," Hobgood told the delegates. "We know that we have to earn your support -- with policies that protect our economy, that protect your jobs, with a government that cares about people, and with a strong defense of the rights of workers."
Kennedy said he is committed to coal too.
"This nation has to put the miners back to work -- not in the 1990s, not in 1985, but now," Kennedy said.
He said the miners have not been put back to work because the Carter administration "has consistently been too little, too late and too complacent" on the issue of increased coal production.
The union, according to its president, Samuel Church Jr., is not endorsing anyone.
The delegates also approved assesment of a selective strike fund to help the union battle coal firms that will not accept contracts bargained with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association.
BCOA has been the bargainer for the industry since 1950. But a major operator, Consolidated Coal Co. of Pittsburgh, has said it will break away from BCOA in March 1981, when current UMW contracts expire. Union officials want the selective fund to counter their fear that such breakway operators might hold out longer than BCOA.