For more than 30 years, NCL’s Trumpeter Award has recognized leaders who are not afraid to speak out for social justice and for the rights of consumers. NCL Trumpeter Award recipients are honored for their commitment to raising the voices of consumers and workers to ensure they are heard. Meet this year’s most deserving Trumpeter recipient, International President of the United Mine Workers of America.
On October 4, the National Consumers League will honor Cecil E. Roberts, International President of the United Mine Workers of America, with the 2012 Trumpeter Award. In presenting President Roberts with the prestigious Trumpeter Award, NCL recognizes his incredible efforts to champion the rights of working Americans by organizing on both the grassroots and national levels. His leadership is founded on a passionate conviction to keep workplaces safe and healthful while ensuring fair compensation for workers.
Cecil Roberts, a sixth-generation coal miner and one of the labor movement’s most stirring and sought-after orators, became President of the United Mine Workers (UMWA) of America on October 22, 1995, having served as Vice President of the union since December 1982. Roberts succeeded Richard L. Trumka, who was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO (and who will help present Roberts with the award).
Growing up in a UMWA household on Cabin Creek in Kanawha County, WV, Roberts heard the stories of his family, including a great-uncle, Bill Blizzard, who was a legendary organizer during the West Virginia mine wars of the 1920’s and a UMWA District President under John L. Lewis. Both of his grandfathers were killed in the mines.
After military service in Vietnam and college, Roberts worked for six years at Carbon Fuels’ No. 31 mine in Winifred, West Virginia, where he served as a local union officer. In 1977 he was elected Vice President of UMWA District 17 by a 2-to-1 margin. In May 1981, he was reelected without opposition.
On November 9, 1982, Roberts was elected Vice President of the UMWA International Union, again by a 2-to-1 margin, running on a slate headed by Trumka and including John J. Banovic, who was elected Secretary-Treasurer. The Trumka – Roberts – Banovic team was reelected without opposition five years later.
In 1989, Roberts was the on-the-scene leader, often referred to as field general, and 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 November 10, 1992, Roberts was reelected by an 80-percent margin to his third term as Vice President.
In December, 1995, Roberts assumed the UMWA Presidency upon the resignation of Richard Trumka.
In 1996, he reopened 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 the Presidency of the UMWA.
In 1998, he negotiated a new National Agreement that was ratified by the highest percentage in the Union’s history. The agreement included an historic 20-year and out pension provision which has benefitted approximately 5,000 UMWA members to date.
In July of 2001 he became a member of the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council. He serves on the Civil and Human Rights Committee; Labor and the Environment Committee; Manufacturing and Industrial Committee; Safety and Occupational Health Committee; Senior Action Committee Strategic Approaches Committee; Political Education Committee; and Article XX Appeals Committee. In October of 2005, he was appointed to the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council.
In 2000 he was again elected by acclamation as President of the United Mine Workers of America, and in 2001 he negotiated a new National Agreement that provided a first ever 30-year and out pension provision regardless of age which has benefitted approximately 3,000 UMWA members to date.
In 2004 he became the first President in the history of the United Mine Workers of America to be elected by acclamation by the membership for three consecutive terms.
At the end of 2008, he became the 2nd longest standing President of the UMWA, second only to John L. Lewis.
In August 2009, Roberts was once again re-elected by acclamation to his fourth full term as International President.
He is on the board of the American Income Life Insurance Company.
Roberts graduated from West Virginia Technical College in 1987, and received an honorary Doctorate in Humanities from West Virginia University of Technology in 1997.
Roberts is married to the former Carolyn Stewart. They have a son, Kyle, a daughter, Melissa, two grandsons, Aaron and Brandon and two granddaughters, Savannah and Kathryn.