He had a high school education, was a coal shuttle operator in Pennsylvania for much of his life, and was of Eastern European descent. He was an active member of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and rose to prominence in District 5 (which covered Pennsylvania) under reformer Joseph "Jock" Yablonski in the 1960s.
Yablonski electoral challenge
Yablonski challenged autocratic UMWA president W. A. Boyle for the presidency of the union in 1969. Trbovich was one of Yablosnki's most ardent supporters, and managed his campaign. In an election widely seen as fraudulent, Boyle beat Yablonski in the election held on December 9 by a margin of nearly two-to-one. Yablonski conceded the election, but on December 18 asked the United States Department of Labor (DOL) to investigate the election for fraud.
On December 31, three hitmen—acting on Boyle's orders and paid with union funds embezzled by Boyle—shot Yablonski, his wife, Margaret, and his 25-year-old daughter, Charlotte, as they slept in the Yablonski home in Clarksville, Pennsylvania.
A few hours after Yablonski's funeral, Trbovich, two of Yablonski's sons (Kenneth Yablonski and Joseph "Chip" Yablonski) and several other miners who had supported Yablonski met in the basement of the church were the service was held. They met with attorney Joseph Rauh and drew up plans for a reform caucus to be called Miners for Democracy. Their immediate goal was to keep Yablonski's election-related lawsuits alive.
Meanwhile, DOL found evidence of fraud and petitioned a federal district court to overturn the election. On January 17, 1972, the United States Supreme Court granted Trbovich permission to intervene in the DOL suit as a complainant—keeping the election fraud suit alive.
Miners for Democracy
Miners for Democracy (MFD) formed in April 1970 while the DOL investigation continued. Anticipating that a new election would be forthcoming, members of the nascent organization began campaigning to be its potential presidential candidates, including black-lung advocate Arnold Miller, Trbovich and miner Elijah Wood.
On May 1, 1972, Judge William Bryant threw out the results of the 1969 UMWA international union elections. Bryant scheduled a new election to be held over the first eight days of December 1972. Additionally, Bryant agreed that DOL should oversee the election, to ensure fairness.
Over the weekend of May 26 to May 28, 1972, 800 MFD delegates from 16 UMWA districts gathered in Wheeling, West Virginia. Miller and Trbovich both sought the group's endorsement for president, with Trbovich the leading candidate going into the convention. But by Sunday, Miller had been elected MFD's presidential candidate, receiving 70.9 votes out of to Trbovich's 57.1 votes. As a consolation, Trbovich was elected the group's vice presidential nominee, receiving 84.1 votes. Harold Patrick, national co-chairman of MFD, received 76.4 votes to win the secretary-treasurer nod.
Miller had triumphed over MFD insider Trbovich after a speech by UMWA District 17 president Jack Perry. Perry had been a founding member of the Logan County Black Lung Association. According to Cecil Roberts, then an MFD supporter and now president of UMWA, "...Arnold Miller's election as UMWA president in 1972 was largely attributable to Jack's impassioned lobbying of MFD convention delegates to support Miller." Many delegates felt Miller was more likely to win any election than Trbovich. Many miners held discriminatory views toward people of Eastern European descent like Trbovich, while others felt he was too militant. Miller, meanwhile, already had a strong base in the black-lung movement. Trbovich was bitterly disappointed.
On December 22, 1972, the Labor Department certified Miller as UMWA's next president. The vote was 70,373 for Miller and 56,334 for Boyle.
Trbovich was elected UMWA's vice president.
First Miller administration
Miller proved to be a weak president. He was markedly indecisive, changing his mind repeatedly and putting off decisions. Eventually, the reform movement he led began to stall.
Miller staffed his team with a number of young, inexperienced campaign staffers. These individuals, who often did not have mining or union backgrounds but who supported Miller's reformist cause, had filled critical roles in the presidential campaign. The college-educated staffers alienated other, more conservative, leaders such as Trbovich, who claimed they were "leftwing radicals from New York and Boston..."
Miller's first major defeat came in early 1973. For the first time in UMWA history, a budget was not only proposed but was also debated in the executive board. Miller budgeted $14 million for organizing, additional safety staff, and government relations. But he soon lost control of the council meeting to Trbovich. He was unable to obtain a motion to cut off debate or hold a vote, and the meeting ran for 14 days. In the end, the board cut $2 million from Miller's budget.
In 1974, Trbovich led another executive board rebellion against Miller. After lengthy and acrimonious debate, the board voted to cut the Miller-proposed budget for organizing and political activity by a third.
Trbovich subsequently accused Miller of financial mismanagement, and filed charges with the U.S. Dept. of Labor against Miller. Miller labeled the charges "politically inspired", and the charges were eventually found to be without merit. In retaliation, Miller took away Trbovich's supervision of the union's safety division.
Trbovich continued to attack Miller the following year. In early June 1974, Trbovich circulated a letter among UMWA's board of directors accusing Miller—and, to a lesser degree, Patrick—of gross financial mismanagement. He accused Miller of overspending and paying raises to staff who contributed little to the union's mission, and reiterated charges that Miller had let the union fall into "radical" hands. Miller denied the charges, and counter-attacked. He accused Trbovich of keeping a public relations consultant on the payroll for six weeks longer than necessary, forcing Miller to fire her. The board's meeting turned into a shouting match between Miller and Trbovich. By that time, Trbovich had the support of 16 of the members on the board and an opposition slate was forming to challenge Miller in the 1977 presidential election.
During the Bituminous Coal Strike of 1974, Trbovich continued to snipe at Miller from the bargaining council, where he criticized Miller's proposals and tentative agreements.
Miller's troubles continued into 1976 and 1977. At a meeting of United Mine Workers locals in northeastern Pennsylvania in early May, Miller and Trbovich engaged in a shouting match in front of the members. "This union is on the verge of financial disaster!" shouted Trbovich. Miller snapped back: "That's a damn lie and you know it!" Immediately after the meeting, Miller suspended Trbovich for insubordination. His claim was that Trbovich had refused to investigate financial and management problems in the union's organizing programs out West. The union's board of directors reinstated Trbovich in late May. Then the board, led by Trbovich, cut $3 million from Miller's proposed $13.9 million budget. In February 1977, as Congress debated surface mining reclamation legislation, Trbovich led a revolt of 15 board members. Despite Miller's support for a ban on surface mining, the letter opposed the new legislation and suggested a state-by-state regulatory approach instead.
Second Miller term
By the end of 1977, Miller's popularity had significantly waned. Some rank-and-file miners had even signed a petition calling for his resignation.
So that elections would not interfere with collective bargaining talks at the end of the year, UMWA's elections were moved to June.
The 1977 election was a three-way race. Opposing Miller were secretary-treasurer Harry Patrick, running on the MFD ticket, and executive board member Lee Roy Patterson, running as head of the Boyle faction.
Trbovich did not run for the presidency after members ridiculed his claims that communists and radicals secretly controlled the Miller administration. Instead, he backed Patrick.
Elected as vice president was Sam Church, a former Boyle supporter and local president who became a field representative and then international representative in the Miller administration. When Church punched a former UMWA staffer in a dispute over a leak to the press, Miller asked Church to be his running-mate.
The 1977 race ended Trbovich's career in UMWA, and he drifted away from union politics and the union.
- Trbovich, Mike. "Mike Trbovich". Genealogy Bank. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
- "Hodgson v. United Mine Workers Of America," 344 F. Supp. 17 (May 1, 1972)
- Wiater, "Top MFD Position Goes to Miller," Wheeling Intelligencer, May 29, 1972. Patrick, 41, was a mechanic at Bethlehem Steel in Fairmont, West Virginia. He had led nine-day strike in the fall of 1969 to protest a new contract which had been negotiated and approved without a rank-and-file vote.
- "Districts in Action." United Mine Workers Journal. March-April 2001.
- Peterson, "The Tragedy of the Miners," Washington Post, January 16, 1977.
- "A Falling Out Among the UMW's Reformers," Business Week, June 30, 1975.
- "A Very Different Kind of Leader of the UMW," Business Week, December 3, 1979.
- "Turmoil in the UMW", Business Week, January 31, 1977.
- "UMW Insubordination," Business Week, May 17, 1976; Montrie, "Expedient Environmentalism," Environmental History, January 2000.
- *Franklin, "Arnold Miller is Dead at 62," New York Times, July 12, 1985.
- "A Close Horse Race in the Mines," Time, February 7, 1977.
- "No Peace in the Pits," Time, June 27, 1977.
- "A Close Horse Race in the Mines." Time. February 7, 1977.
- "Districts in Action." United Mine Workers Journal. March-April 2001.
- "A Falling Out Among the UMW's Reformers." Business Week. June 30, 1975.
- Franklin, Ben A. "Arnold Miller is Dead at 62; Former Mine Workers' President." New York Times. July 12, 1985.
- Montrie, Chad. "Expedient Environmentalism." Environmental History. January 2000.
- Peterson, Bill. "The Tragedy of the Miners; Arnold Miller and the Disarray of the Reform Movement." Washington Post. January 16, 1977.
- "Turmoil in the UMW." Business Week. January 31, 1977.
- "UMW Insubordination." Business Week. May 17, 1976.
- "A Very Different Kind of Leader of the UMW." Business Week. December 3, 1979.
- Wiater, John. "Top MFD Position Goes to Miller." Wheeling Intelligencer. May 29, 1972.