A Social Contract for the Coal Fields
The Rise and Fall of the United Mine Workers of America Welfare and Retirement Fund
- Author(s): Mulcahy, Richard P.
- Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
- Publication Date: 2001-02-28
- Status: Active
- Available in Hardcover - Cloth: Price $34.00 | Buy Now
The United Mine Workers of America epitomized the New Deal concept of “junior partner” in the corporate economy, whereby unions made some concessions to management in return for better salaries and benefits. This book tells how that union’s welfare and retirement fund blazed a trail in industrial benefits and served as a barometer of labor relations in the post–World War II era—and how union leaders and changes in the industry eventually undermined the program.
The UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund functioned as a privatized version of Social Security and pioneered the idea that medical insurance providers had the right to exercise control over their beneficiaries’ treatment. Richard Mulcahy—a scholar who grew up near the western Pennsylvania coal fields—draws on Fund records, participants’ private papers, and interviews with staff members to present the first complete story of the Fund’s health care and pension system from its creation in 1946 to the termination of medical service in 1978.
A Social Contract for the Coal Fields tells how John L. Lewis made the creation of a miners’ welfare fund an all-consuming issue in his negotiations with coal companies, and of the struggle that ensued between Lewis and the coal operators for control of the Fund. Mulcahy covers the Fund’s successes and reveals the problems it had in fulfilling the social contract forged between miners, union, and management.
While the Fund’s creation anticipated the rise of the social order implicit in the New Deal, the demise of its medical program anticipated both the end of that order and the labor movement’s general decline during the 1980s. Mulcahy’s assessment of this innovative plan shows the significance of such labor-management arrangements as it provides insight into where national social policy may currently be heading.
The Author: Richard P. Mulcahy is an associate professor of history and political science at the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville and is a fellow of the Center for Northern Appalachian Studies of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.