June 07, 2019

Fairmont, WV, UMWA Offices Dedicated To Cecil Roberts | The Clarksburg Exponent Telegram

FAIRMONT — In honor of nearly 25 years of leadership, United Mine Workers of America officials gathered in Fairmont Thursday morning to dedicate their new local offices after President Cecil E. Roberts.

Officials from the UMWA were joined by state and national legislators as they welcomed Roberts to The Friendly City, with each of them saying no other person deserved the honor more than their longtime president.

“I’ve been a dues-paying mine worker since 1977,” said Rick Altman, UMWA’s International District 31 vice president. “I’ve been around a day or two. I’ve never met a man more dedicated to the people not just of West Virginia, but of this country. There’s nobody, in my opinion, more worthy of having his name immortalized on a building. He has done as much as any man can possible do for all of us.”

Altman, who has known Roberts for decades, said just attending the dedication was a huge deal to him, and he was more than happy to share that with everyone in the audience, as well.

“This is probably the greatest honor I’ve ever had in my life,” Altman said. “I get to be a part of dedicating a building to, I will tell you, the greatest labor leader of all time. I don’t have many heroes, but he’s one.”

Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, also came to show his support for Roberts. It was actually Caputo, who served as the UMWA’s International District 31 vice president before Altman, who made the motion to dedicate the new building after his longtime friend.

During his speech, Caputo recalled countless instances of Roberts sticking his neck out for the workers, which ended in jail time on more than one occasion.

“We got on buses” Caputo said. “We got arrested. He was never afraid to go to jail for the rank and file miners and officers of this union. You can’t count how many times he has been put behind bars standing up for a cause that he truly believed in and he knew was right. That’s why it’s so appropriate to name that building after Cecil.”

However, UMWA representatives weren't the only ones to come and celebrate Roberts's achievements. Sen. Joe Manchin also made an appearance and spoke about the importance of a strong leader such as Roberts being present for the country's miners through thick and thin.

“You’ve got to be tough to be a leader, but you’ve got to know when to be tough,” Manchin said. “You’ve got to be compassionate, but you’ve got to know when to be compassionate. You always have to be sincere and be true to yourself… Cecil has that in spades…. His purpose is about every working man and woman and everyone associated with the UMWA and every other working movement in this country.”

The new offices are located on Country Club Road between Jayenne Elementary School and R.C. Jones Funeral Home, across town from District 31's previous offices on Gaston Avenue.

“July of last year, we had a waterline break,” Altman said. “We sold the building to the bank and purchased this one."

Altman said the new building will be an improvement over the old offices in just about every way.

“The parking is the biggest advantage,” Altman said. “The services are still the same, but if they’re coming in to see the reps, they’re a little more isolated so there’s more one-on-one time that we can spend with whoever comes in. It’s beneficial to our parties. We have more time to take care of the members who come in.”

Roberts himself, while thrilled by the dedication, remained humble during the ceremony and gave more credit to his coworkers for their successes than he did himself. Speaking to those in attendance, he stressed that, in order for the UMWA to continue its good work, it will soon be time for the next generation of workers to step up to the plate.

“If this union is indeed going to be here 30 years from now, you younger people have to take it over when you feel free,” Roberts said. “Stake a claim to this union, but you can’t do it just at the mine. When there’s a rally, you go rally. When there’s a strike, you go strike. When you’ve got to stand up, stand up.”


By:  John Mark Shaver