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Manchin backs pro-union legislation, aid

From left, National Press Club President Lisa Nicole Matthews, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, and UMWA President Cecil Roberts. (Screengrab)

CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin sat Monday with United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts to discuss a path forward for coal states like West Virginia, including ways to put union members back to work and grow manufacturing opportunities in areas that benefited from coal jobs.

Manchin, D-W.Va., the chairman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Roberts took part in a virtual event Monday sponsored by the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The event was moderated by National Press Club President Lisa Nicole Matthews.

Manchin announced Monday he will co-sponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize (P.R.O.) Act. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the P.R.O. Act last month.

The P.R.O. Act prohibits states from passing or enforcing right-to-work laws that give workers the choices whether to join or pay dues and fees to a labor union.

West Virginia passed a right-to-work law in 2016 that was upheld in 2020 by the state Supreme Court of Appeals. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states have right-to-work laws.

“Fifty percent of unions fail in their first year of organization. This legislation will level the playing field,” Manchin said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to move this bill through the legislative process.”

“If I heard (Manchin) correctly, I think we just made some history here in respect to the P.R.O. Act,” Roberts said. “I want to thank him for that, because that is part of what we’re suggesting here … as to what needs to happen here in Appalachia.”

The bill would also extend federal labor rules and organizing rights to independent contractors, such as gig economy workers, and provide penalties for businesses and companies that attempt to retaliate against employees who attempt to unionize.

“We need more jobs, but those jobs need to be good-paying jobs,” Roberts said. “That’s why it’s so important for this country to pass the P.R.O. Act, allowing people who want to join a union to have that opportunity. That’s one of the basic freedoms we have.”

Manchin said his American Jobs and Energy Manufacturing Act also is a tool for helping lure manufacturing of clean energy technology, such as solar panels and wind turbines, to parts of West Virginia. The bill would provide $8 billion to incentivize domestic manufacturing of advanced energy technologies with targeted investment in rural communities with closed coal mines or coal-fired power plants.

“We must also create incentives to bring back industries to America that will boost demand within the United States, providing new economic opportunities to our communities and good-paying jobs for our qualified, experienced miners who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” Manchin said.

Roberts agreed with Manchin. He also said returning steel manufacturing from overseas back to the U.S. would create demand for coal. Roberts criticized the manufacturing of clean energy components in places, such as China.

“We could do one thing in this nation to put coal miners back to work in a very quick manner, and that would be to start making steel in this country again,” Roberts said. “Right now, two thirds of all wind turbines are made in China. Two-thirds of all materials that go into solar power are made in China … we should not be at the mercy of China for solar panels or the mercy of China for all technology related to energy.”

According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, coal mining is expected to increase in the short term over the next three years, particularly with coal exports.

“Our forecast indicates that the worst may be over for the state’s coal industry,” the report stated. “We forecast that the second quarter of 2020 will mark the bottom of production and job losses in the state and the industry will begin a slow recovery over the course of the next few quarters.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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