Kenneth Yablonski (February 13, 1934 – September 8, 2002) was a noted attorney with the firm of Yablonski, Costello and Leckie in Washington, Pennsylvania.
Kenneth Yablonski was born in 1934 to Joseph "Jock" and Ann Huffman Yablonski. He obtained a bachelor's degree from Waynesburg College in 1956 and received his J.D. from West Virginia University College of Law in 1959.
In 1961, he co-founded the firm of Yablonski, Costello and Leckie, and remained with the firm for the rest of his life.
In 1964, Yablonski won a precedent-setting case involving benefits to survivors of a mine disaster. A mine explosion occurred at U.S. Steel's Robena No. 3 Mine in Greene County, Pennsylvania on December 8, 1962. A total of 37 miners lost their lives. Yablonski won a court order forcing the local coroner to perform an inquest, which subsequently provided evidence that helped the families win expanded survivors' benefits from the Pennsylvania Workmens' Compensation Board.
Father's murder and union activism
In the 1960s, Yablonski's father, Joseph A. "Jock" Yablonski, a long-time labor union representative, made a number of attempts to reform the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) which ultimately led to a run for the presidency of UMWA in 1969 against W. A. Tony" Boyle. During and after the election, Jock Yablonski was represented and assisted by labor attorneys Joseph Rauh and Daniel Edelman, and sons Kenneth and Joseph "Chip" Yablonski. Jock Yablonski brought five lawsuits alleging 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. After losing the election, and believing that Boyle had committed election fraud, Jock Yablonski sued to overturn the election.
On December 31, 1969, Jock Yablonski, his wife Margaret, and his 25-year-old daughter Charlotte were murdered by three assassins hired by Boyle and paid for with embezzled union money. Worried that he had not heard from his family since Christmas, Kenneth Yablonski and a friend drove to the Yablonski home in Clarksville, Pennsylvania on January 5, 1970 and discovered the bodies of his slain family.
In the aftermath of his family's murders, Kenneth Yablonski joined with his brother and other miners to form the Miners for Democracy, a reform movement within UMWA. Lou Antal, president of UMWA District 5, hired Kenneth Yablonski to represent him as he attempted to overturn his district's 1970 election results (which had been rigged by Boyle).
The ensuing outcry over the murders led to the 1969 election being overturned and miner Arnold Miller unseated Boyle in 1972.
Continuing legal work
Although he later ended his relationship with Miller due to differences over Miller's leadership of the international union, Yablonski continued to serve as an attorney with his father's old District 5, advising on workers' compensation issues and acting as counsel until 1981.
Yablonski continued to represent individual miners in various cases throughout his life. In the 1980s, he won several black lung disease cases, overcoming employer objections to providing medical and financial benefits for stricken miners and their families.
In 1982, Yablonski won a precedent-setting Supreme Court case concerning attorney's fees.
United Steelworkers reformer Edward Sadlowski ran for president of the international union in 1977 and for District 31 president in 1973. He lost both times, and filed election fraud petitions with the United States Department of Labor (DOL). DOL found evidence of fraud and sued to overturn the 1973 election. The Steelworkers union settled the case out-of-court. Sadlowski then sued the union to recover his legal fees, incurred by Yablonski, Joseph Rauh and two others. On December 16, 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the union must cover the cost of legal fees up until the time Sadlowski filed his DOL fraud claim. The award was a major victory for individuals who successfully sue their labor unions over corruption.
Kenneth Yablonski was a director of the Yablonski Memorial Clinic. The clinic was founded in 1955 by UMWA to bring health care to mining families in rural areas of Pennsylvania. Originally called the Centerville Clinic, it was renamed the Yablonski Memorial Clinic in honor of his father, Jock. Yablonski served as chairman of the board of directors of the clinic until his death.
In 1965, Yablonski married his wife, Shirley. They had one son, Kenneth. Yablonski had two sons from a prior marriage, Mark and Joseph.
Kenneth Yablonski appears in documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple's film, Harlan County, USA, which won the 1976 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. He is shown making an emotional public statement, saying "We [my brother and I] loved and admired our father. We respected him, and my brother and I would like to carry him to his final resting place. But we deem it proper to do otherwise. My brother Joseph with our cousins from my mother's family will carry our mother, and I with our cousins from my father's family will carry our sister Charlotte. We entrust our father to the coal miners, whom he loved so much."
- 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).
- Yablonski, K. (1976). In: B. Kopple (dir.). Harlan County U.S.A..
- Carelli, Richard, "Chicago Steelworker Wins Bid on Lawyers' Fees", Associated Press, October 4, 1982
- "Deaths", Washington Post, September 14, 2002
- "Deaths Elsewhere", The Baltimore Sun, September 11, 2002
- Sabatini, Patricia, "Kenneth J. Yablonski; Champion of Miners, Son of Slain Reformer", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 11, 2002