The United Mine Workers of America is endorsing Democratic candidate Ben Salango for West Virginia governor.
According to UMWA President Cecil Roberts, 80 active and retired miners voted unanimously to support Salango on Monday.
Almost five years ago, the UMWA announced a similar endorsement of Salango’s opponent, Gov. Jim Justice.
“Had Gov. Justice been running against Ben Salango, we would’ve endorsed Ben Salango,” Roberts said during a virtual press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We would’ve felt then like we do now, that Ben Salango would’ve made a better governor than the governor we have now.”
Justice was running as a Democrat at the time against Republican Bill Cole.
Justice, a Greenbrier County billionaire whose family owns several mining operations, announced at a Trump rally in 2017 he was changing political parties.
Today, Justice-owned companies owe millions in environmental and labor-related fees and lawsuits. That includes roughly $4 million in delinquent debt for safety violations in 2019, according to a report from the Ohio Valley Resource. The Justice family agreed to pay more than $5 million in fines to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in April.
ProPublica reported in May that the UMWA sued Justice in 2019 after the Justice companies stopped paying for retired miners’ health insurance plans. ProPublica also reports that the governor has paid more than $128 million in legal settlements.
Justice campaign manager Roman Stauffer said in an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon that the governor “isn’t a politician and won’t engage in partisan politics.”
Throughout Justice’s time as governor, Stauffer said grants that the UMWA Career Center has received through the West Virginia Development Office – including a $369,000 grant in 2020, awarded quarterly – demonstrates Justice’s support for the union.
Roberts said Tuesday endorsing Salango had nothing to do with political parties, adding the UMWA also has endorsed Republican candidates for the 2020 election, due to the candidates’ support of legislation in Congress that will protect miners’ pensions and retiree health care. Such endorsements include U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. David McKinley.
“Anybody that lives in West Virginia realizes there’s been a struggle now for 10 years, with bankruptcy after bankruptcy after bankruptcy,” Roberts said. “Workers’ pensions, workers’ health care, workers’ jobs are on the line every time one of those bankruptcies occurs.”
The UMWA announced Tuesday it’s also endorsing Democratic candidate Sam Petsonk for attorney general. Petsonk was a legal intern with the UMWA in the mid-2000s. He’s running against Republican incumbent Patrick Morrisey.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.