This chapter examines the dramatic changes within the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)—once the most powerful force in American organized labor. By the end of the twentieth century, the UMWA seemed incapable of organizing nonunion mines, even in the region that once provided its strongest support. Over its lifetime, the UMWA has moved through three distinct eras: confrontational organizing, labor brokerage, and crisis management. John L. Lewis' legacy as union president transformed the union from a fractured organizing body to a streamlined labor broker, negotiating contracts and winning the best possible wages and benefits. However, in Coal River, the community and environmental activism of the late 1990s emerged as a challenge to the leadership of the UMWA, this time demanding a strong stance against mountaintop removal.
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