|E&E News graphic: Coal jobs 1995-2015|
The UMWA, which had 500,000 members at its peak in the 1930s, had 67,440 at the end of 2016, with fewer than 8,000 still mining coal, Brown writes. The reason is that most are retired, meaning more people are relying on payouts than paying in. (Unions in U.S. coal mines)
In 1946, when negotiations broke down between coal operators and UMWA, President Harry S. Truman "stepped in and nationalized the country's mines," Brown writes. That led to the signing on May 29, 1946, of the National Bituminous [Coal] Wage Agreement, which "mandated a six-day workweek and safety code, but it also created the first miner health and retirement plans. That set a precedent for government-backed benefits that still holds today, the UMWA argues."
Coal began to see a decline after the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, "which tackled acid rain, put a premium on low-sulfur coal at power plants," Brown writes. That led to a shift of production from Appalachia to the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, and to surface mines, which require fewer miners. "More coal was being mined and burned than ever. In 1999, for the first time, more coal came from west of the Mississippi River than east. Coal from unionized mines took the hit, Roberts said, and today accounts for less than 20 percent of all U.S. coal. The shift cost the UMWA more than 20,000 jobs."