Striking coal miners gathered at union halls yesterday to discuss a proposed contract that faces mounting opposition, as United Mine Workers President Sam Church denied charges he has "sold out" or has avoided facing dissident members.
Church, looking tired, said in Evansville, Ind.: "I worked very hard. I was dedicated to getting a contract without a strike."
The union president, who has been touring eastern coal states since Thursday to rally support for a new contract with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, has been heckled and jeered by miners on many of his stops and has been criticized for avoiding some locals.
The coalfields were reported quiet as many of the union's 160,000 members, who struck Friday when their old contract expired, attended meetings to discuss the contract. The miners will vote on the proposed contract Tuesday.
"I'm surprised and I'm disappointed. Something's very wrong that he's [church] not coming to talk to us," said Bob Young, a UMW official in Kentucky. "The miners are angry. They all respected Sam Church but they don't understand why he got that contract."
Church attributed the attacks to internal politics and upcoming UMW elections. He said "I've been hoping politics wouldn't get into it. But it's causing us a lot of problems."
"If people would just get up and explain this thing truthfully, that's all I want," Church said. "Then, if the miners don't want it, I'll take it back."
A growing number of miners have criticized the proposed contract, singling out a provision that would end the royalty paid to the union by BCOA companies on purchases of nonunion coal. Church has said the royalty was exchanged for a $100-a-month pension for some miners' widows.
Elmer Tackett, president of UMW Local 1741 in Kentucky, called the contract, "just a bunch or horse manure . . . I don't know where Church has got his horse stabled, but he's sent his manure down here to us."
Some UMW leaders have defended the contract. District 11 President Larry Reynolds predicted that Indiana miners will approve the proposal.
But in Church's home turf of Mingo County, W. Va., the word from the rank and file who gathered in grocery stores, bars, schools, and community centers was that they would not support the new agreement, Washington Post special correspondent Judith Gaines reported.
At Kroger's Grocery, strip miner Tommy Gibson of Switzer declared: "I can take you to a thousand miners in these parts. I guarantee you not one of them will vote for that contract."
"If the coal operators can pay less for nonunion coal, they'll stop buying union," said Earsel Haney at the Red Robin Inn in Broderland, W. Va. "Before long, we'll be getting laid off and the union will be undermined."
A cautionary note was sounded, however, by Jeanual Browning, a former miner now running a service station in the mining community of Holden, W. Va. Fearing that a negative vote on the first contract is inevitable, Browning says he hopes the miners will soften their stand when they consider the consequences.
"That last strike broke me," he said. "It lasted 111 days. I had to withdraw everything I had from the bank. I just couldn't make it. That's why I've got this filling station now."