The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 5, 2012

War on coal, Romney put labor in awkward role

 Given the Obama administration’s “war on coal” and Mitt Romney’s vow to destroy unions, one West Virginia labor leader acknowledges this election year is an awkward one.

Despite the rock-and-hard place situation, Kenny Perdue managed to chuckle Tuesday.

As the Democrats prepared to settle in for the serious work at the national convention in Charlotte, the president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO had one word when asked about what is at stake for organized labor.

“Survival,” he said.

“While we’re not totally satisfied with President (Barack) Obama, we believe that he has been there in a lot of different ways for working people of this state of West Virginia, and this country.”

Without question, the delegate said, a Romney-Ryan administration would have as its “total objective to attack and destroy unions.”

“That’s something we’ve fought for years and we will continue to fight,” Perdue said.

President Obama is hardly the darling of labor, at least in West Virginia, and the dissatisfaction is couched in one four-letter word: coal.

Democratic leaders, in fact, have made much in recent months over what they perceive as a “war on coal,” orchestrated by the Environmental Protection Agency with stringent enforcement of clean air and water rules that industry says has thrown permits into limbo and prompted layoffs.

Perdue pulled no punches in criticizing Obama over the EPA under his hand-picked administrator, Lisa Jackson.

“I think that he is being very shortsighted in the EPA in allowing them to attack the coal miner jobs in the way that they have,” he said.

Perdue pledged that the AFL-CIO will be part of the endeavor to alter the EPA policy on coal.

“You never know, unless you keep on trying,” he said, when asked if this attitude can be changed.

“I don’t know. We will be very vigilant in making that attempt. We’ve been a coal mining state for over 100 years and will continue to be. I find it very difficult that somebody would try to take down an industry that has been so much a part of this state.”

Obviously, the EPA puts organized labor in an awkward position in this presidential election year.

“We find ourselves in that position quite often,” Perdue said.

“It’s not anything new. We get put in these positions. We will work with our friends in the United Mine Workers of America and other organizations that work around the energy industry to find an answer, to find a solution to that situation.”

At the same time, Perdue said the industry leaders need to be examined for their role in the “war on coal.”

“Instead of trying to find the answer to that, they just went on the attack from the get-go about the president,” he said.

“I think the coal companies and coal association need to take a position, how can we make coal stronger in the state, not only just mining, but how can we succor industries like coke ovens, like steel mills, or things of that nature that are important to the progress of West Virginia.”

Labor, on the other hand, certainly would have no ally in a Romney-Ryan administration, and there is no further proof than in the GOP nominees’ regard to education with their stated goal of fighting the unions even though they have pledged to improve teacher pay, Perdue said.

“I find that appalling that he (Romney) would fight an organization that would help,” the labor leader said.

Perdue attended three other conventions — the 2000 one for Al Gore in Los Angeles, the 2004 gathering for John Kerry in Boston, and the 2008 event for Obama in Denver.

“I think there’s every bit as much or more energy around this one as what I’ve seen in the previous three,” he said.

Besides the routine of convention work, West Virginia delegates have managed to get outside for some sightseeing.

Perdue found the natives openly warm and hospitable, and there is ample evidence that the “Hillbilly Highway” is still accommodating West Virginia transplants.

“We were walking to meet a ride yesterday afternoon and a guy stepped outside and stopped us,” he said.

“He’s from McDowell County and mentioned a lot of politicos from down there in southern West Virginia.”

For labor, Perdue said he in no way feels uncomfortable with the Democrats picking right-to-work North Carolina as a convention site.

“Every state in the union has an AFL-CIO,” he said.

“I’m committed to helping the North Carolina AFL-CIO. Through partnerships, we support each other. I’m here as much to support him (North Carolina leader) as I am to work on getting the president elected and help our Democratic delegation.”

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