W. A. Boyle

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W. A. Boyle bigraphy, stories - Leaders

W. A. Boyle : biography

December 1, 1904 – May 31, 1985

William Anthony "Tony" Boyle (December 1, 1904 – May 31, 1985) was president of the United Mine Workers of America union from 1963 to 1972.

Yablonski challenge and murder

In 1969, Joseph "Jock" Yablonski challenged Boyle for the presidency of UMWA. Yablonski had been president of UMWA District 5 (an appointed position) until Boyle had removed him in 1965. In an election widely seen as corrupt, Boyle defeated Yablonski in the election held on December 9 by a margin of nearly two-to-one (80,577 to 46,073). Yablonski conceded the election, but on December 18, 1969, asked the United States Department of Labor (DOL) to investigate the election for fraud. He also initiated five lawsuits against UMWA in federal court.The suits alleged that Boyle and UMWA had denied him use of the union’s mailing lists as provided for by law, that he had been removed from his position as acting director of Labor’s Non-Partisan League in retaliation for his candidacy, that the UMW Journal was being used by Boyle as a campaign and propaganda mouthpiece, that UMWA had no rules for fair elections and printed nearly 51,000 excess ballots which should be destroyed, and that UMWA had violated its fiduciary duties by spending union funds on Boyle’s re-election. These charges and their resolution are outlined in "Kenneth J. Yablonski and Joseph A. Yablonski v. United Mine Workers of America et al.", 466 F.2d 424 (August 3, 1972).

On December 31, 1969, three killers shot Yablonski, his wife, Margaret, and his 25-year-old daughter, Charlotte dead, as they slept in the Yablonski home in Clarksville, Pennsylvania. The bodies were discovered on January 5, 1970, by Yablonski’s son, Kenneth. Boyle had demanded Yablonski’s death on June 23, 1969, after a meeting with Yablonski at UMWA headquarters had degenerated into a screaming match. In September 1969, UMWA executive council member Albert Pass received $20,000 from Boyle (who had embezzled the money from union funds) to hire assassins to kill Yablonski. Paul Gilly, an out-of-work house painter and son-in-law of a minor UMWA official, and two drifters, Aubran Martin and Claude Vealey, agreed to do the job. The murder was postponed until after the election, to avoid suspicion falling on Boyle."The Yablonski Contract," Time, May 15, 1972; "The Fall of Tony Boyle", Time, September 17, 1973; Lewis, Murder By Contract, 1975.

Presidency of UMWA

From the beginning of his tenure, Boyle faced significant opposition from rank-and-file miners and UMWA leaders. Miners’ attitudes about their union had also changed. Miners wanted greater democracy and more local autonomy for their local unions. There was a widespread belief that Boyle was more concerned with protecting mine owners’ interests than those of his members. Grievances filed by the union often took months—sometimes years—to resolve, lending credence to the critics’ claim. Wildcat strikes occurred as local unions, despairing of UMWA assistance, sought to resolve local disputes with walkouts.

Overturned election and defeat

Yablonski’s murder sparked federal action. On January 8, 1970, Yablonski’s attorney requested an immediate investigation of the 1969 election by DOL. The Department of Labor had taken no action on Yablonski’s complaints while he lived. But after his murder, Labor Secretary George P. Shultz assigned 230 investigators to the UMWA investigation.

The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) of 1959 regulates the internal affairs of labor unions, requiring regular secret-ballot elections for local union offices and providing for federal investigation of election fraud or impropriety. DOL is authorized under the act to sue in federal court to have the election overturned. By 1970, however, only three international union elections had been overturned by the courts."Vindication for Jock Yablonski", Time, March 16, 1970.

Meanwhile, a reform group, Miners for Democracy (MFD), had formed in April 1970 while the DOL investigation continued. Its members included most of the miners who belonged to the West Virginia Black Lung Association and many of Yablonski’s supporters and campaign staff. The chief organizers of Miners for Democracy included Yablonski’s sons, Joseph (known as "Chip") and Ken, Trbovich and others."Oral History Interview With Dr. Donald Rasmussen", March 1, 2004.