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UMWA’s Roberts rallies miners in challenging times

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — United Mine Workers Union President Cecil Roberts told active miners, retirees and their families Wednesday there’s no certainty that coal will rebound and jobs will come back as has been the case in the history of the industry.

Roberts delivered the speech in Morgantown in which he laid out the current status of the industry and the union’s battles heading into the future.

“The news hasn’t been good for the coal industry for a few years now. A pattern of generally milder weather has set in over much of the country, reducing electricity demand,” Roberts said. “The sudden surge of natural gas production, much of it right around here, has caused natural gas prices to plunge to a point where, on a cost-per-BTU basis, gas is now a cheaper fuel to use to generate electricity than coal. And the glut of gas available to the market means that situation could go on for some time.”

MORE Read text of Cecil Roberts’ speech here

Roberts said the union faces other battles including health care benefits for retirees and their dependents.

“Our pension plan is in critical status, and we are faced with the real possibility that employers will want to withdraw from it if we can’t pass legislation to fix the pension plan’s funding issues by the end of 2016,” he said.

The union’s contract will also be negotiated next year.

Roberts laid out a plan of attack. He first urged members to fight against tax breaks being given to natural gas-fired power plants by county commissions, some of those in West Virginia. He also wants Congress to lift the ban on natural gas exports, pass a six-year transportation plan that he said would increase the market for steel and metallurgical coal.

The union chief admitted one of the union’s main opponents is the federal EPA and its increasing regulations. He said the overreach means when the energy market does come back there’s no guarantee all coal jobs will follow.

“So when the market for energy fuels rebounds, and natural gas prices return to their historical levels–making coal a cheaper fuel to generate electricity once again–there will be an artificial, government-erected barrier to a stronger coal market that did not exist at the end of past downturns in the coal market,” Roberts said.

Roberts told the crowd despite all of the negativity surrounding the industry the union, which is more than just himself, would not give up.

“It’s time to get fired up, Brothers and Sisters! Join the fight for our jobs! Join the fight for our retirees! Join the fight for a secure future for our families! And join the fight for a fair contract in 2016! Together, we can do anything,” he said.

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