On February 18, 1969, 282 coal miners walked off their jobs in Raleigh County. While coal strikes were common at the time, this one was different. First, the miners weren’t protesting for better wages but to have black lung recognized as a compensable disease. Second, the strike was in direct opposition to union wishes. For decades, miners had asked United Mine Workers of America leaders to address black lung. But, their pleas had been largely ignored. The previous year, union leader Tony Boyle finally had agreed to support black lung recognition at the state level. By this time, though, many rank-and-file miners had become fed up with Boyle. A tipping point occurred when Boyle defended company officials following the deadly Farmington mine disaster.
So, rank-and-file miners took matters into their own hands and walked off the job. Eight days later, 2,000 miners marched on the state capitol and demanded action. After the legislature produced a weak bill, all of the state’s miners—more than 40,000—went on strike. Thanks in part to their protests, Congress passed a bill providing federal funding to compensate miners with black lung.