Title: Interview with James Douglass Identifier: 1997oh034 Date: 09 Dec 1996Interviewer: Jerrell Reynolds Project: Blue Diamond/Stearns Coal Mining Strike
JERRELL REYNOLDS: . . .interview with James E. Douglas who was a miner at thetime of the Blue Diamond coal strike at Stearns in the 1970s. The interview was conducted by Jerrell Reynolds a student at Eastern Kentucky University as part of the Blue Diamond Coal Strike oral history project. The interview was conducted at Revelo, Kentucky on December the ninth 1996. At approximately 6pm. Uh, Jim I'd like thank you once again for coming back and speaking with me. Ah, would you please state your name please.
JAMES E DOUGLAS: James E. Douglas.
REYNOLDS: Ah, Jim, ah, can you give us the history of your work in the mines?
DOUGLAS: Well I started out at Co-Op when I was eighteen years old. Startedworking for [unclear] company.
REYNOLDS: What job did you have while you were there?
DOUGLAS: Well I was running a drill, [unclear] drill, it was a hand drill then.1:00And [unclear] machine and loader.
REYNOLDS: Describe some of the job working with the loader, how's that work?
DOUGLAS: Well you just whenever they shoot the coal you take the loader inthere carry it up and run down on the shuttle car.
REYNOLDS: Where-what-when did you, ah, move to ah the mines over at Justice?
DOUGLAS: Well I don't know exactly when it was there was [unclear]. I went towork for West Coal pretty much [unclear] but I don't know when it was. It was in the early seventies I guess whenever they called [unclear] back.
REYNOLDS: How long had you worked at Stearns before they went on strike?
DOUGLAS: Oh, well I started in the 60s, in the early 60s and they went on strike2:00there at the, it was [unclear] seventies.
REYNOLDS: What were the working conditions like in Stearns?
DOUGLAS: Dusty, gassy and dangerous.
REYNOLDS: Why was the coal so dusty? And dangerous?
DOUGLAS: Well, they, they didn't have no water on it [clears throat].
REYNOLDS: What-what's the problem with gas?
DOUGLAS: it came in through the bottom of the coal to the top and theequipment had gas monitors on it but now [unclear] in there [unclear].
REYNOLDS: Were there any problems at Stearns prior to the sale of justice mines.
REYNOLDS: When Stearns was running the company?
DOUGLAS: Yep, ah that's-that's the reason the whole strike started to startwith that bottom section down there what was it ah, the one west we had one man couldn't get to the section. I mean a you had to walk to the section and carrying supplies and crawl overtop of rock piles [unclear] crawl over them.
REYNOLDS: Did they improve-Did the conditions improve any after Blue Diamondbought the mines?
DOUGLAS: Uh, I don't think.
REYNOLDS: How would you consider the treatment you received when Blue Diamondtook over?
DOUGLAS: Then the bosses got real hateful. Bosses was good until Blue Diamond4:00got [unclear] then the bosses got real hateful and if they thought you was for the union give you a hard time, [unclear].
REYNOLDS: Just before the strike, did you make any, ah, formal complaints toBlue Diamond about the safety and other problems you were having there?
DOUGLAS: All of us did. [Cough] Not necessarily to Blue Diamond but to the, toour bosses, and general foreman.
REYNOLDS: Did you ever hear anything back from the company on those, on those points?
REYNOLDS: Explain to me something about the McCreary miners union were you apart of that?
DOUGLAS: Yeah. McCreary miners union. Well it was just-just a little old5:00union. Had a good burial fund you know where you, they had a good burial fund for you. That's all it was, you know, you couldn't do nothing with it , I mean it was just more or less company run just. The company union.
REYNOLDS: How did the United Mine Workers get involved in the strike down in Stearns?
DOUGLAS: Well, they , they just kept treating the men so bad, the conditionsand stuff we had to work in was so bad they wanted another union. McCreary county union just wouldn't help us so we wanted another union. And it come down to Southern Labor or United Mine Workers.
REYNOLDS: Do you recall the vote that brought the united mine workers in? Wasit ah, overwhelmingly a United mine workers vote?
DOUGLAS: Yes. Yes it was.
REYNOLDS: What would you say the percentage of that was, of men that voted for?
DOUGLAS: Eighty-five percent.
REYNOLDS: Did you's go on picket immediately after voting the union in?
DOUGLAS: No, no we did not.
REYNOLDS: Was there any attempt, ah, to ah settle it with Blue Diamond?6:00
DOUGLAS: Yeah and they wouldn't negotiate. They just wouldn't talk to us.
REYNOLDS: Why do you think uh Blue Diamond wouldn't talk to you?
DOUGLAS: Well I think they just had [unclear] reserve that's all I thought theywanted was [unclear]. You know to reserve.
REYNOLDS: Tell me about some of the times you had on the picket line, Jim?
DOUGLAS: [unclear] I walked the picket. When I was up there in the evening[unclear] twenty below.
REYNOLDS: Uh, Tell me the type of treatment you feel you fellows got fromStorm security.
DOUGLAS: Well it wasn't good. Here you was over here on the picket line them7:00shooting at us [unclear] to go.
REYNOLDS: Where was, ah, Storm security located in comparison to where you guyswere at on the picket line?
DOUGLAS: Straight in front of us.
REYNOLDS: Were they above you or looking down on you or did they have a goodshot at you or?
DOUGLAS: Oh yeah. They set up just across the little hollow there. Set straightin front of us just a little hollow separating us. We even had to buy our own property up there to even walk picket. And they kept throwing us off and everything, we had to buy our property to walk on it.
REYNOLDS: After you guys went on strike ah was there any promise of negotiationon either side?
DOUGLAS: Well the union tried. And a time or two there we thought, you know,8:00they was going to, but they never.
REYNOLDS: In your opinion what caused the strike?
DOUGLAS: Safety, in the mine that, that's all we was wanting. Safety commissionsand [unclear].
REYNOLDS: Was pay a problem at Stearns?
DOUGLAS: No we made more money, we was making more money than united mineworkers men.
REYNOLDS: How were the, the some of mine workers affected your pay?
DOUGLAS: They were going to cut our pay. Raise or drop we would have had goodworking conditions that's what made us go with the mine worker for the better conditions.
REYNOLDS: So safety was more important than money than?
REYNOLDS: Do you think the miners were treated fairly by Blue Diamond?
REYNOLDS: How could they have?
DOUGLAS: Well they could have investigated [unclear] whoever was working at9:00the time. Before Blue Diamond took it over the miners, the bosses and stuff was just as honest fellows as you ever met, you know they wouldn't ask you to do something that they wouldn't do themselves. After Blue Diamond took over well then that's all there was [unclear] never had [unclear] left you in places you would have never thought about cutting in.
REYNOLDS: You mentioned, ah, United Mine Workers, do you think they treated youfellows fairly on the picket line?
DOUGLAS: Well I do yes. Yeah they paid our electric bills, our heat bills,house, how much it was they give us for walking picket. It wasn't much [unclear] you know if we got in a spot and they did [unclear] man they'd just, they'd all chip in treated [unclear].
REYNOLDS: You also mentioned the Southern Labor Union, ah, how did they get10:00involved in the strike at there?
DOUGLAS: Well Southern Labor was [clear throat] west coal had a little old mineover here in, in Whitley county just right across the McCreary County line there and Souther Labor was originally from [unclear] and they just, you know they just got ate up. You know it was either it or united mine workers.
REYNOLDS: It was never seriously considered at Stearns?
DOUGLAS: No. Southern Labor, one of the thing, Southern Labor was just anothercompany union but they had good insurance. They paid your doctor bills, the paid all your doctor bills and paid you, and bought your gas and stuff out of your first two months.
REYNOLDS: Do you think uh the safety conditions would have changed there atStearns any had Southern Labor come in?
DOUGLAS: No. No, if anything it would have been worse.11:00
REYNOLDS: What would you say the lasting affects of the strike is on the county?
DOUGLAS: We're in it bad for the county now. That was the only income in townyou could get, nothing now.
REYNOLDS: How did the strike affect you and your family, Jim?
DOUGLAS: Well old lady never had to work. When the strike started she had to goto work. We lost two cars, that's about it.
REYNOLDS: Do you think there's any regrets that you might have walking picket?
DOUGLAS: No. Oh I'd do it again.
DOUGLAS: It wasn't just for us now, it was , you got to look out, that was the12:00only thing going around here then. And you had to look out for your community and all. See, your kids grow up and now nine times out of ten that's what they was going to be. And you had to, most of that was that you had to look out for what was going to happen to your kids and stuff too now. If you didn't want them going in a place like that and then, if that had kept a running now they wouldn't be.
REYNOLDS: Jim what were some of the uh, describe for me some of the, ah, safetyproblems at Sterns.
DOUGLAS: Well, gas, real gas and you couldn't keep curtains up. Sawing you hadthe top falling in all the time keeping you blocked off from where you, if anybody got hurt on section on one west, if anybody got hurt on one west they would have never come out on a [unclear] and hurt seriously we'd have never got them out. Cause we had to crawl through coal and rock piles and everything the way it was water up to our waists getting in the section. [unclear]
REYNOLDS: Now I understand. . . .
DOUGLAS: We worked on one rock fall down there for over a year. Trying to get through13:00
REYNOLDS: Did you ever get through it?
DOUGLAS: Yes sir. Yeah, finally I mean we worked on it, one shift I mean usuallysecond shift worked on it, but we had one shift working every night, seven days a week trying to get through.
REYNOLDS: After you got the rock pile cleaned up what would you do then?
DOUGLAS: Well [unclear] cleaned up we worked [unclear] two more [unclear].
REYNOLDS: Did, ah, you guys lay track in there after you got the rock pile up?
REYNOLDS: I understand the elevator there was a problem too, can you explainthat for me.
DOUGLAS: Well the elevator was dangerous. In winter time there would be big14:00icicles form in it. And the doors wouldn't shut. Whenever you started down the doors wouldn't shut and the icicles would start breaking and falling coming in the doors and sliding in. The doors [unclear] and as you started up, the elevator would quite, they usually have a man out there running back, [unclear] copper plate till you got to the top and they'd take you out. So yeah the elevator was dangerous.
REYNOLDS: Were you men told anything at all before the strike by Blue Diamond.
DOUGLAS: Well Frank Thomas come down there and give us a little speech stir[unclear] up. He told us that if we went with that union our neighbors would have our jobs.
REYNOLDS: And you think that was a threat?
DOUGLAS: No that was a promise. That wasn't a threat, that was a promise.
REYNOLDS: That, overall did, ah, you feel like is any effort made at all tokeep you guys working?
DOUGLAS: No. [unclear]
REYNOLDS: If Jim Douglas were running the show how would you take care of it?15:00
DOUGLAS: Well if I'd been running it I was, I would [unclear] it. I would[unclear] the union. I'd [unclear] safety so that's [unclear] it would have been better on the men anyway. Because that's all we were after there was the safety. And the men, the men that they had working down there then were [unclear] time in the world, you know , if they'd have tried to make it half way safe. They had a good bunch of men working and I think all I think all the bosses will tell you that they didn't have no regrets down there [unclear].
REYNOLDS: Why were the men so loyal?
DOUGLAS: Well they just wanted to stay at home and they was glad, you know, theyhad a job here at home that they could work. Before it went to Blue Diamond well I would usually work seven days a week.
REYNOLDS: Were you allowed to work seven days a week most time?
DOUGLAS: Well I'd go in the men, my boss [unclear] would go in and look at all16:00the places on weekends and every thing and make sure they was safe, no gas or nothing in the [unclear]. [unclear].
REYNOLDS: Ah, tell me about some of the times you had mining after BlueDiamond, where did you go from there after the strike?
DOUGLAS: Pikeville, Kentucky. Worked the Sharondale [unclear] for two years.We voted union in there and they signed a national contract. Worked for about a year after the union went in, worked for a year and they shut it down. We walked picket for three more years.
REYNOLDS: Why did they shut it down after voting the union in?
DOUGLAS: Well they just didn't get as much money. They had somewhere that they17:00wouldn't lose their job [unclear] right after it went union and they just, they just laid down and wouldn't work.
REYNOLDS: The men wouldn't work?
DOUGLAS: A lot of them. They'd have whole sections out over, over nothing[unclear] or anything [unclear] dirty or anything.
REYNOLDS: The men did that or the uh bosses?
DOUGLAS: No the men done it. The men is what shut Sharondale down. They juststopped working.
REYNOLDS: In comparison between the two mines how would you ah, how would youcompare the two uh shifts men, men that you worked with?
DOUGLAS: What do you mean? In comparison [unclear]
REYNOLDS: Compare the men you were working with at Sharondale as compared withthose you was working with at Stearns what was the difference between the, if any in men?
DOUGLAS: I worked with the same ones. We all went over there in one section.
REYNOLDS: So you all ah, you fellows were was the ones laying down and wouldn't work?
DOUGLAS: Well, no. It wasn't us now we we had some men over there from, over18:00there uh Pikeville. Whenever it went union they wouldn't do nothing, and if they didn't do nothing you couldn't do yours cause you wasn't allowed to do nothing else you know, you just couldn't step in there and do their jobs. If they was [unclear] they had to do their job. You couldn't do it.
REYNOLDS: Now, you said you would walk picket again, bring the union in again,why do you feel so strongly?
DOUGLAS: If I was able to work now, I'd, I'd work the union. Because, the union,19:00if you ain't got a union the company just treats you awful. That's all right there. You ain't got no rights. If you ain't got the union then you ain't got not rights. That's what I was telling you about Souther Labor. Southern Labor union over there, If, I have seen men over there that work over there for 12 to 15 years, and they brung a man in and tell you your training that man, you get him trained and they would, they'd send you home. They would fire you and let that younger man take the job. That ain't right.
REYNOLDS: Why do you think they did that Jim?
DOUGLAS: Well they just thought he was getting too old getting ready to sign upon rock dust and black lung and [unclear] just get rid of him.
REYNOLDS: Jim I thank you for your time I appreciate you coming back and makingthis second tape for me. Um, I know it's been a bother, uh thank you.
DOUGLAS: You're welcome.
[END OF INTERVIEW]