This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on Dec. 21, 2021. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
The push for passage of the Build Back Better Act got a potential boost late Monday as the United Mine Workers of America, the coal miners’ union that Sen. Joe Manchin counts as a key ally, called on the right-wing Democratic senator to reconsider his opposition to his party’s signature economic agenda.
UMWA president Cecil Roberts outlined several provisions in the $1.75 trillion investment in anti-poverty programs and climate action which would directly benefit the union’s 80,000 members, and made clear that coal miners are counting on the West Virginia lawmakers to “revisit his opposition.”
Manchin must “work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities,” Roberts said.
The statement came a day after Manchin announced he’s a “no” on the legislation, imperiling the monthly Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments millions of families—including 70% of Manchin’s constituents—have come to rely on this year, as well as universal pre-kindergarten, $550 billion in climate investments, and other provisions to help working people over the next decade.
The UMWA specifically objected to Manchin’s refusal—reportedly due to the inclusion of the CTC—to back a spending plan that includes protections for coal miners’ right to organize in the workplace and investments in their health and financial stability.
“The bill includes language that would, for the first time, financially penalize outlaw employers that deny workers their rights to form a union on the job,” said Roberts. “This language is critical to any long-term ability to restore the right to organize in America in the face of ramped-up union-busting by employers. But now there is no path forward for millions of workers to exercise their rights at work.”
Roberts noted that by tanking the legislation’s chance of passing in the evenly split US Senate, Manchin is threatening provisions that are also part of the UMWA’s “Principles for Energy Transition,” the union’s proposal for a “just transition” toward renewable energy.
“The bill includes language that will provide tax incentives to encourage manufacturers to build facilities in the coalfields that would employ thousands of coal miners who have lost their jobs,” said Roberts, referring to President Joe Biden’s plan to grow domestic supply chains in solar and wind power “in communities on the frontlines of the energy transition.”
“We support that and are ready to help supply those plants with a trained, professional workforce,” said Roberts. “But now the potential for those jobs is significantly threatened.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Roberts’ statement demonstrates how Manchin’s own constituents “desperately need” him to support the package.
As Common Dreams reported Monday, Manchin’s opposition to the CTC partially stems from his belief that families won’t use the monthly payments responsibly, despite data showing that more than half of West Virginia families used the funds primarily to buy groceries.
Manchin is also poised to deliver a blow to coal miners who develop black lung disease, as the bill includes an extension of the requirement that coal companies contribute to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which provides benefits for victims of the illness.
Without the legislation, the fee required of companies “will be cut in half, further shifting the burden of paying these benefits away from the coal companies and on to taxpayers,” said Roberts.
“If we don’t get an extension through the Build Back Better Act, then it is going to be a struggle for those of us with black lung to see what happens to the fund,” Gary Hairston, president of the National Black Lung Association and a former West Virginia coal miner who suffers from the disease, told Kim Kelly, a labor reporter for Teen Vogue.
Expressing disbelief that Manchin would jeopardize a fund that sent $40 million to West Virginia coal mining veterans in 2020—out of $162 million nationwide—The New Republic asked on Sunday, “Does Joe Manchin know that Build Back Better would extend vital aid to sick coal miners?”
Manchin has had a close relationship with the UMWA for years. He was named an honorary member of the union last year and has worked with Roberts to secure pensions for coal mining retirees.
The senator’s ties to the industry make Roberts’ statement “a big step” toward potentially pushing Manchin to reconsider his position, Kelly tweeted.
“Manchin has lost the coal miners with this latest betrayal,” she said.
Progressive Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) expressed hope that the UMWA’s statement will push Manchin to return to the negotiating table in the interest of listening to his own constituents.
“It’s almost like the Data for Progress poll showing 68% of West Virginians support Build Back Better is more reflective of what West Virginians want than what Joe Manchin is saying,” tweeted Jones.