CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A man with courage is how United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts described former UMWA President Arnold Miller on Friday.
Roberts spoke alongside two of Miller’s children at the UMWA District 17 Office in Charleston during a dedication of a sign that will be placed on an Interstate-77 bridge near Miller’s hometown of Cabin Creek barring his name.
The late Miller was President of UMWA from 1972 to 1979.
“This way he will never be forgotten,” Roberts said. “Not that he was ever going to be but this is something every time someone goes across the bridge from some other state or some other location in the state, they will say well who was Arnold Miller. Once they go across they will look it up who he was.”
Born in Kanawha County on April 25, 1923, the late Miller became a coal miner at the age of 16.
Roberts said he most admired Miller for his service in the Army in World War II where Miller was severely wounded during the D-Day invasion.
Returning home from service and after 19 operations for his battle wounds, Miller found himself back in the mines.
In 1969 Miller was the leader of a union local where he helped lead the passage of West Virginia’s first black lung compensation law.
Miller ran for UMWA President in 1972 against Tony Boyle, the incumbent, and won to become the first true rank-and-file miner to head the labor union.
Roberts said Miller’s run in 1972 came with a lot of courage because of the murder of Boyle’s previous opponent Jock Yablonski.
“To say that I want to the person to run against Tony Boyle after Jock Yablonski, his wife and his daughter were murdered. He had a lot of courage to do that and it was a tough election,” Roberts said.
“There was a lot of arguments and fistfights along the way but he won.”
From the election, Roberts said Miller helped transform the union as it is today.
First, at the 1973 convention brought democracy to UMWA’s national movement and complete democracy to the coalfields.
“The first time we elected our district officials, we had never done that in the history of the union until after the 1973 convention,” Roberts said.
“Then he gave us a right to ratify collecting bargaining agreements. We never had those rights.”
Roberts said the contract Miller helped negotiate in 1974 was one of the best contracts in the history of the coalfields. The contract helped bring personal leave days, floating vacation days, sick and accident insurance to miners, something Roberts said people take for granted these days.
Miller resigned as president in 1979 due to health issues and died six years later in Charleston at age 62.
The bridge that sits on I-77 on the way to Marmet and Charleston has donned Miller’s name with military honors but through legislation in the House, will read UMWA President 1972-1979 now.
A declaration from the House of Delegates was read Friday noting Miller’s achievements.
Roberts said everyone can learn from Miller’s life.
“He taught us with democracy and autonomy comes responsibility. Sometimes we forget that.”