Here’s Manchin in Oct. 2019, when he was grandstanding in support of the mineworkers, and protecting their pensions. Note that his Democratic colleagues were there to help him.
“The whole Democratic caucus stood with us and fought with us,” Manchin said then. “No matter whether we agree on different issues, whether we agree to disagree, this is one area—if you don’t stand up for the American workers, no one will.” The American workers in West Virginia’s coal mines are rightfully wondering where that Joe Manchin went.
He’s hanging out with their bosses, who “were shocked” when the workers broke with them in asking for Manchin’s help on Build Back Better. That’s according to Chris Hamilton, the president of the West Virginia Coal Association, who told the NYT that the unions were “waving a white flag” in asking for this legislation that the unions said, “would help workers, our families, and the labor movement both across the country and right here in West Virginia.”
“We would have thought they’d have gone down swinging,” Hamilton added. “I don’t think we ought to be trading one job for another, particularly basic fossil energy jobs which are extremely well paid and carry benefits—and could last for another generation.”
The chief lobbyist for the mineworkers union slapped back. “We’re still swinging, but we’re swinging in a smart way and in a way that will provide a real future for fossil energy workers in West Virginia and throughout the country.” Union officials, who spoke to the NYT “on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering mine owners,” because that’s how tenuous they feel their jobs are, said that Manchin taking advice from the West Virginia Coal Association was a mistake, and not just because it’s full of Trumpers and endorsed Manchin’s Republican opponent in 2018. They point to the fact that the union made him an honorary member in 2020.
“My grandfather, Papa Joe, started working in the mines at nine years of age and I will never forget his stories of how hard he worked and fought for his fellow miners to have the dignity and respect every miner deserves,” Manchin said when he was honored by the union. “I lost my Uncle John, classmates from high school, friends, and neighbors in the 1968 Farmington No 9 mining disaster. I know the hard work and risk our miners take every day to provide for their families, but also the patriotic pride they have in providing our great nation with the power we needed to win wars and propel us to become the world power we are today.”
“Standing alongside the UMWA members while they fought tooth and nail to secure the pension and healthcare benefits they rightfully earned has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” he continued. “Today I am humbled to be recognized as an honorary member of this great organization and to be brought in as one of their brothers. I am incredibly proud of everything we have accomplished together for West Virginia coal miners and their families and all miners across America.”
So the mineworkers are right to question where his allegiances now lie—with them and their future or with the big money of the coal companies. The companies that have chewed workers up and spit them out for decades and decades. The companies that want to squeeze every bit of work and every dollar that they can out of coal right now, and the hell with the future.
It’s not just coal, by the way, that’s an issue for his state in his opposition to Build Back Better. The Medicare expansion to vision, dental, and hearing coverage that Manchin opposes would disproportionately help West Virginians, who have some of the highest rates of deferred or simply absent care. The state is number 3 in the nation for people aged 65 and older who have lost all of their teeth due to lack of dental care (26.3%) and is number two for all adults who have not been to a dentist or dental clinic for a year or more (44.7%). It has more adults with hearing loss (24.7%) than any other state. It’s the third-oldest state in the country.
It’s possible Manchin is like the mine owners—he’s looking to get what he can while the getting is good. But if he has any inclination at all to run for office again, he’s going to have a helluva lot to answer for at home.