CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Jim Justice will have the backing of the United Mine Workers Union as he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor next year in West Virginia. In what made for an unusual gathering, the billionaire coal operator accepted the endorsement of the union’s political action committee in Charleston on Thursday.
“Some people might think it’s kind of unusual that we as a union would endorse somebody who’s been in the coal business running coal mines most of his life,” said United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts. “But the thing we respect about Jim Justice is that he has never run away from a worker’s right to belong to a union. That’s hard to find anymore.”
Justice accepted the nomination and vowed coal is not dead.
“I’m a real believer that coal still has a part, it has a centerpiece in our state. It is vital to this country,” Justice told a small gathering of union leaders and reporters. “I know how tough it is and I know how many strikes it seems like we have against us, but I’ve known a lot of you guys for a long time. We don’t always agree and we don’t always have to agree, but we’ve always worked it out.”
Justice said he has 750 miners working in coal mines in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky. All of his West Virginia mines are union operations. When asked about how he would handle a right-to-work bill as governor, Justice said he would veto it.
“I think it’s just a political football. It’s something that’s a hot button that people can go out and flaunt the fact they got a right-to-work law passed,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s honestly to me like taking an aspirin for cancer. We have far, far deeper problems than whether or not we have a right-to-work law. I think it’s a bush. I wouldn’t be for it.”
The answer drew a round of applause from the union gathering.
Justice also indicated he has ideas about how to keep coal as a prominent energy source in the future. He said it will take creative thinking and unusual ideas, but he added that’s what he brings to the table–ideas.
“I’m going to come out with two ideas in regard to what we should do in our state on coal,” he said. “I’m trying to vet them right now to perfect them. I can give you two ideas very, very soon that will address having our power plants burn West Virginia coal and put people back to work.”
Justice also answered criticisms that he has been slow in paying bills and outstanding fines for environmental violations.
“That’s important and I want to tell you if there’s anything that’s unpaid we may very well contest it, but at the end of the rainbow any obligation that I have, I will fulfill,” Justice said. “It may very well be that I’m late doing something, but I always get to the party. I can tell you there’s a lot of people that have folded their tents and there’s a lot of people there with their hands out that aren’t ever going to be fed.”
Roberts defended the endorsement of Justice over Democrat Jeff Kessler in the Primary.
“This is not in any way a criticism of Senator Kessler,” Roberts said. This is our membership believing we need to take a bold step here to get out early and fight hard to get somebody in the governor’s mansion who is going to fight hard for us.”