Wilbert Killion, a long-time United Mine Workers of America official from Brazil, Ind., got his wish this week.
"For the past 10 or 11 years his organization has been going through a very trying period with some of us being loyal to one person and some of us being loyal to another," he said.
"If God would grant me one wish, it would be that we could forget the differences we've had between us and unite behind our new president, Sam Church, and give him a chance to pick this organization up," Killion said.
Delegates attending the UMWs 48th constitutional convention here have done exactly that. They have given Samuel Church Jr. -- "Sam the Man," they call him -- nearly everything he asked for in one week of amazingly smooth voting.
In rapid order, the delegates approved proposals giving Church the one-time power to handpick his vice president without a union election. They backed a Church request for a 100 percent increase in individual initiation fees and a 120 percent increase in individual dues, and approved another proposal giving the union's leadership the power to assess working union members "such amounts as necessary" to provide benefits for members on strike.
Church lost a proposal that would have also empowered the union to assess members for costs and judgments stemming from possible court settlements against the UMW. But the union's constitutional committee is expected to return with a revised version of that proposal before the 10-day convention ends Thursday. Based on his performance during the convention's first week, Church is given at least an even chance of winning approval of the revision.
For Church, a 43-year-old, raspy-voicedcoal miner from Big Stone Cap, Va., the votes constituted a favarable referendum on the leadership he assumed Nov. 16 following retirement of ailing UMW president Arnold Miller.
For most of the 1,200 delegates attending the convention, the votes marked a new start for their union, which had become characterized by belligerent factionalism and financial decline.
Some, however, like Del. James M. Branson of Charleston, W. Va., wondered in the transformation was being achieved at the cost of union democracy.
"Democracy strengthens the union. It doesn't weaken it. It doesn't disunite it," Branson said, arguing against giving Church the power to choose his vice president.
"I think this resolution allowing appointment is a waiving of the democratic process we fought so hard for," Branson said.
Other delegates, in numerous caucuses and social gatherings, said they felt they had sacrificed some "treasured autonomy," as they called it. They said they were a little wary about having given so much power to Church, but that the union was in dire need of unity and a strong leader.
"Sure, it's a little scary," said Del. Barbara Angle, one of an estimated 2,600 women working in mines.
"Sam is getting all kinds of authority and power at this convention. With it, he could either sink us or really put us way out there on top," she said.
Angle voted against the fee and dues increases (from $100 to $200 for initiation fees, and from $12 per month to 26.40 per month for dues) "only because I questioned the amount asked for," she said. But she said she supported Church on all other issues "because we need a strong leader."
The eight women delegates attending the convention avoided significant debate over women's issues to achieve unity on the convention floor.
"Most of the women here are willing to wait on some of their issues because they want a strong union first. They want to be accepted as miners and not to ask for any special treatment that could lead to divisions," said Connie L. White, an official of the Coal Employment Project of Oak Ridge, Tenn. which represents women coal miners.
Church gave more than nodding recognition to the women at the connvention. Usually dressed in a sweater and casual slacks, he popped in on their meetings, made some good-intentioned but nonetheless sexist jokes, and told the women that, despite his recalcitrant chauvinism, he regarded them as miners with equal rights.
Church engaged in similar wooing of the male delegates -- and of the press. He made a point of showing up at meetings, shaking hands, thanking "you brothers in the coal field" for support -- and he also held press conferences every day, even though he sometimes had little to say.
The UMW president turned aside suggestions that he had steam-rollered several votes, commenting: "The delegates supported me, didn't they? That was the democratic process you saw working out there."
Of course, he had his supporters, especially in Lou Antal, a UMW district president from Pittsburgh.
"That's crap. That's a lot of garbage," said Antal, when a reporter asked him if the union was trading democracy for unity.
"You guys are just looking for something to write," he said.
Antal said the powers given Church are needed if the union's 230,000 active and retired members are to move forward.
"Just because we don't want any more fighting amongst ourselves doesn't mean that we're letting Sam take democracy away from us," Antal said. "The man has been overly fair here. You gotta give him a chance."