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Joe Powell

Labor leader Joseph William ‘‘Joe’’ Powell was born in Morgantown on February 19, 1924. As president of the West Virginia Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, he represented approximately 90,000 workers in nearly 400 union locals. Throughout his 23-year tenure, Powell lobbied for legislation on issues important to workers. He and other union leaders won incremental increases in compensation benefits for injured workers. At times, he struggled to defend established rights. He also suffered defeats, including a 1995 workers’ compensation reform bill that cut benefits to injured workers and a failure to get collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Powell attended Harrison County public schools. In 1941, at age 18, he began work as a glass cutter for Rolland Glass Company in Clarksburg. A year later, after the United States had entered World War II, he enrolled in a specialized military training program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. After completing his military service, Powell returned to Rolland and joined the Glasscutters League of America, AFL-CIO. In 1964, he became state director of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO. In 1973, he directed the West Virginia AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education.

A year later, after the sudden death of West Virginia Labor Federation President Miles Stanley, the union’s executive board appointed Powell interim president, and he served the remaining three years of Stanley’s term. He was elected president in 1977, and held that post until he retired in 1997. He died on August 16, 2021, at age 97.


  1. McElhinny, Brad. Powell Will Miss the Job. Charleston Daily Mail, 8/19/1997.

  2. Seiler, Fanny. Union Leader to Retire. Charleston Gazette, 8/19/1997.