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Unionist Arnold Ray Miller (April 25, 1923-July 12, 1985) brought democratic reform to the United Mine Workers of America. He was born the son and grandson of miners at Leewood on Cabin Creek in Kanawha County. He quit school in his mid-teens to become a coal miner.

In 1942, Miller joined the army. As an infantryman during the D-Day invasion, he received severe facial wounds from machine-gun fire and lost most of his left ear. Over the next two years, he underwent 19 operations in military hospitals in England. Returning home in 1946, he worked at an auto repair shop for several years until he found a mining job. In 1970, black lung disease and arthritis forced him to retire from the mines.

While working as a miner, Miller was president of his union local and one of the founders of the Black Lung Association. In February 1969, he helped the Black Lung Association lead a three-week coal strike and a march on the state capitol that led to the passage of West Virginia’s first black lung compensation law. In May 1972, the Miners for Democracy organization chose Miller in a meeting at Wheeling College (now Wheeling University) to challenge UMW President Tony Boyle. A federal judge had ordered a special election because of irregularities in Boyle’s victory over Jock Yablonski in the union’s 1969 election. Boyle later went to prison for arranging the murders of Yablonski, his wife, and daughter.

After defeating Boyle in December 1972, Miller immediately issued orders to let rank-and-file members elect their regional leaders instead of having them chosen by the president. During his presidency, Miller had the union’s constitution rewritten to allow members to approve or reject new contracts. In 1974, he negotiated the national coal contract with an improved health care plan.

Despite early successes, turmoil marked Miller’s presidency. He won reelection in 1977 but received less than half the vote in a three-man race. Soon, he faced an industry-wide wildcat strike from miners upset over cuts in health benefits. An attempt to recall him was ultimately defeated on grounds that it violated the union’s constitution.

After a series of health problems, Miller resigned as president in 1979. He died six years later in Charleston. Arnold Miller has two West Virginia highway bridges named for him. A bridge on the West Virginia Turnpike in Marmet honoring his war service was dedicated in 1977. In 2019, another bridge on I-77 near his hometown on Cabin Creek was named for Miller with the phrase “UMWA President 1972-1979.”

This Article was written by Jim Wallace

Last Revised on April 14, 2023

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Cite This Article

Wallace, Jim "Arnold Miller." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 April 2023. Web. 12 July 2024.


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