RACINE – A good-sized crowd in an off-election year turned out under sunny skies Monday, September 2, for the 75th Annual UMWA Labor Day Celebration at Racine.
The United Mine Workers of America event regularly is the launching pad for candidates throughout the state and region. Although there is no major election in 2013, several potential candidates for 2014 were featured.
Miners and retirees filled the bleachers and tent areas on the ground at John Slack Memorial Park. In addition to the speakers, food and refreshments were served throughout the afternoon.
The retirement dispute involving Peabody and Patriot Coal companies was the major top of discussion among those in the crowd, although speakers – particularly United States Senator Joe Manchin and Congressman Nick Joe Rahall – also spoke about the crisis in Syria.
In fact, Manchin noted during his presentation that he would be leaving later Monday afternoon to return to Washington, D.C. where briefings regarding Syria will be held.
“We all hope to make an informed decision (regarding the use of arms in Syria) by the end of the week,” Manchin said to widespread applause.
The event got underway at 11:30 a.m. Jana Browning performed the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
A highlight of the day was the musical presentation by young Abby Bolton, who performed numerous country and western tunes to the delight of the crowd.
Among the public officials who were present and spoke during the day were Boone County Commissioner Eddie Hendricks, Manchin, Rahall, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. Tennant is rumored to be considering a run for the United States Senate seat that will become vacant with the retirement of Senator Jay Rockefeller next year.
Another featured speaker was Democrat Congressional candidate Nick Casey, a Charleston attorney who is seeking to fill the seat that will be vacated by Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito. Capito, a Republican, is an announced candidate for Rockefeller’s seat.
Manchin and Rahall both took aim at the Peabody-Patriot situation during their remarks. The Congressman closed his remarks by exclaiming his support for “Jobs, Justice and the UMWA.”
Manchin observed that, “there is definitely a war on coal and it comes from our own government. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.” Democrat President Barack Obama has managed low approval ratings in West Virginia, with most saying his lack of appeal relates to the so-called “war on coal.” That includes what is perceived as regulatory efforts to limit coal mining operations in the Southern coalfields.
Manchin brought loud cheers from the crowd when he addressed the Peabody-Patriot situation. “It’s not a problem with Patriot; it’s a problem with Peabody,” he exclaimed. “That is the company that promised the benefits they have tried to take away. They can’t get away from that obligation by calling themselves something else.”
Tomblin described his meeting with high government officials at the Environmental Protection Agency recently. “We told them, we want to work with them,” said the Governor. “We’ve made giant improvements. I grew up in Logan and I can remember when the river ran black. That’s not the case anymore. We’re doing a better job of protecting the environment and we just need them to work with us.”
As Manchin, Rahall, State Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, Tennant, Delegate Josh Barker and others worked the crowd; most comments surrounded the pension agreements.
“Corporate greed,” said retired miner Darrell Harris. “That’s all you can say it is. Peabody and Patriot are trying to pull what they are because they’re greedy. We worked hard and were promised what we were promised. Now, they want to keep all the money and leave us without coverage.”
Patty Price, who described herself as a “coal miner’s daughter, wife, granddaughter, niece and friend,” said she is not as concerned about Congressional action on Syria as she is the pension situation with Patriot. “That’s what I’m really worried about,” she said.
Shirts spotted in the crowd declared similar sentiments. One said, “We Earned the Right to Retire with Dignity.”
Another shirt declared, “Everything I have, I got from the Democrats. The Republicans tried to keep me from getting it and, ever since I got it, the Republicans have tried to take it away.”
The half-and-half drawing, sponsored by the Boone Democrat Executive Committee, presented $199 to the winner, Greg Butcher. A gun was also raffled to raise funds.
Among the food treats was the famous pork roast produced by Glenn “Hound Dog” Adkins. A huge line formed to get a taste of Adkins’ offerings. According to the chef, his supplier said he had roasted at least 1,000 pigs during the past many years.
“It’s the best and everybody knows it,” said Delegate Barker.
The nearby swimming pool was open for the final day of the season, with free swimming for all who wished to participate.
Among the politicians with advertisements in the day’s program were Manchin, Tomblin, Rockefeller, Delegates Margaret Staggers and Linda Goode Phillips, State Treasurer John Perdue, State Auditor Glen Gainer, Senator Tucker, Delegate Don Perdue, House Speaker Tim Miley, State Senator Jack Yost, Delegates Mike Ferro, David G. Perry, Richard J. Iaqunita, Justin Marcum and Stephen Skinner, State Senator Ron Stollings, Delegates Brady Paxton, Mike Caputo, Randy Swartzmiller, Mary M. Poling and Jim Morgan, State Senator Larry Edgell, Congressional candidate Nick Casey, Tennant, Delegates Phillip Diserio, Nancy Guthrie, Mark Hunt, Dan Poling and Rahall.