Roberts to Discuss King’s Labor Legacy

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Cecil Roberts, a sixth-generation coal miner and president of the United Mine Workers of America, will speak on “Labor and Civil Rights-The King Legacy” at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31, in the E.J. Ball Courtroom, located on the second floor through the south entrance facing Mullins Library and the Arkansas Union. Roberts is appearing as part of the Hartman Hotz Lecture Series at the University of Arkansas.

Speaking to the AFL-CIO in 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. remarked that “Negroes in the United States read the history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail and equality will be exacted.”

The United Mine Workers of America is an independent union within the AFL-CIO. Founded in 1890, the UMWA represents coal miners and other workers in coal and mining-related industries, and it has been particularly central to the reform of lax regulations that have contributed to the mining disasters of recent years.

Cecil Edward Roberts Jr. became president of the UMWA on Oct. 22, 1995, having served as vice president of the union since December 1982. Roberts’ great uncle, Bill Blizzard, was a legendary organizer during the West Virginia mine wars of the 1920s and a UMWA district president under John L. Lewis. Both of his grandfathers were killed in the mines.

After college and military service in Vietnam, Roberts began work at Carbon Fuels' No. 31 mine in Winifred, W.Va., in 1971. He worked for six years in a variety of underground jobs, including general inside laborer, shuttle car operator, unitrack operator, greaser, beltman and mechanic.

On Nov. 9, 1982, Roberts was elected vice president of the UMWA by a 2-1 margin, and was re-elected without opposition five years later. In 1989, Roberts was the day-to-day negotiator in the UMWA's militant 10-month strike against the Pittston Co., which had cut off health benefits to its retirees and was trying to walk away from its obligations to the UMWA health and retirement funds. For his role in that successful strike, Roberts received the Rainbow Coalition's Martin Luther King award as well as awards from Citizen Action and the Midwest Academy.

On Nov. 10, 1992, Roberts was re-elected by an 80 percent margin to his third term as vice president. In December 1995, he assumed the UMWA presidency. In 1996, he re-opened the UMWA's national agreement for the first time in the union's history and made significant improvements in the wage agreement.

In August 1997, Roberts was elected by acclamation to a new five-year term, winning the support of 99 percent of the locals participating in the union's nominating process. In 1998, Roberts negotiated a new national agreement that was ratified by the highest percentage in the union's history.

In December 2001, Roberts bargained a new five-year national agreement more than a year before scheduled expiration of the existing contract. The new agreement included the highest pension increases ever negotiated and “30-and-Out” language that now allowed miners with 30 years’ service to retire with full benefits at any age.

In August 2004, the UMWA membership again elected Roberts by acclamation to a new five-year term, marking the first time in UMWA history that the membership elected its president three times in a row by acclamation.

In addition to serving as UMWA president, Roberts has also held office or worked on behalf of several other organizations over the years, including serving on the Committee for Employer Support of Veteran Employment and the West Virginia Employment Opportunities and Economic Development Commission. He is a member of the West Virginia University Institute for Labor Studies and Research Advisory Board, the American Legion and a lifetime member of the VFW. He graduated in 1987 from West Virginia Technical College, and in 1997, he received an honorary Doctorate in Humanities from West Virginia University of Technology.

The University of Arkansas Hartman Hotz Lectures in Law and Liberal Arts were established by Dr. and Mrs. Palmer Hotz of Foster City, Calif., to honor the memory of his brother, Hartman Hotz. Hartman Hotz was a graduate in history from the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. After graduating from Yale University Law School, he joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas School of Law, where he made significant contributions to the study of law.

Many distinguished speakers have participated in this lecture series, among them Chief Justice Warren Burger, G. Edward White, Shirley Abbott, Daisy Bates, Thomas Grisso, George Fletcher and George McGovern.

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