Roberts declares UMWA solidarity with BLE

UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts received several standing ovations from delegates at the BLE's Seventh Quinquennial Convention.

In a stirring speech to BLE delegates the morning of September 25, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts exhorted the delegates attending the BLE's Seventh Quinquennial Convention as well as all BLE members to join together with mine workers in a coalition for the betterment of both unions.

"I believe we should work in a coalition together," Roberts said. "The UMWA and the BLE have so many common interests. I believe all of us standing together and fighting together we can shine light into dark places. We can bring hope where there is no hope, and we can keep hope alive where there is hope.

"We mine it and you haul it," Roberts said of coal, the main link between BLE and UMWA members. "United we stand, divided we fall. A wrong to one is a wrong to all."

Brother Roberts, one of the labor movement's best speakers, received several standing ovations throughout his speech, which carried a strong message of solidarity and brotherhood.

A sixth generation mine worker, Roberts spoke with a heavy heart as he told delegates about the fatal accident that befell 13 mine workers at the Blue Creek No. 5 mine near Tuscaloosa, Ala. On September 22, two gas explosions nearly half a mile beneath the earth killed at least four coal miners and left nine of their rescuers missing and presumed dead. It is considered the nation's worst mining calamity in 17 years.

Roberts said 11 miners escaped an initial mine collapse, but knew that two of their union brothers were still trapped inside. These brave brothers re-entered the mine to rescue the two missing miners when they, too, became trapped. On September 24, rescue teams located one body and one injured miner, who has since died at a nearby hospital. Roberts was forced to leave the BLE convention early due to this tragedy.

Roberts said the bravery of the miners involved in the Alabama cave-in brought to mind the heroic actions of police and firefighters following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. He compared the 11 UMWA miners who re-entered the burning mine to rescue their union brothers to the New York City firefighters and police officers who entered the World Trade Center to rescue victims following the terrorist attacks.

"This is a difficult and trying time for organized labor," said Roberts, explaining eight airline pilots, 25 flight attendants and 50 SEIU members - including several window washers - were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Roberts said that two members of the Communications Workers of America were actually working on the main antenna on top of the World Trade Center when the first plane crashed.

"We ask for prayers for the victims and survivors," Roberts said. "But we, as organized labor, like the rest of the United States and, indeed, the world, have a duty and obligation to move forward." He said 75 members of the Laborers International Union, 40 members of ASFCME and 40 members of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees union also lost their lives in the September 11 terrorist attack.

Times of strife often draw people and organizations together, and Roberts thanked the BLE for its support of the UMWA during difficult times in the recent past.

"I am proud to stand with you today, and I thank you for standing with us," he said.

This support has led to a natural bond between BLE and UMWA members.

"Fifty percent of the freight hauled in the U.S. is coal," Roberts said. "The BLE and UMWA are wonderful partners in all of this. We are linked together."

Roberts said the BLE and UMWA have an excellent opportunity to forge stronger ties and fight together on issues of mutual interest.


2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers