A Labor Day tradition in Southern West Virginia will move online this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United Mine Workers of America will host its 82nd annual Labor Day Celebration live on Facebook, instead of at its usual location in John Slack Memorial Park in Boone County.
The event will be livestreamed beginning at 1 p.m. on the UMW Facebook page, according to a news release from the union.
Even though people won’t be able to gather in the park in Boone County, UMW International President Cecil Roberts said he is glad people can gather virtually.
“It will not be the same experience,” Roberts said. “But we have plenty to talk about in this most perilous time for our nation and our state.”
Roberts will be one of the speakers at the event, along with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, who is the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor.
Other labor leaders, including West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword and UMW International Secretary-Treasurer Levi Allen, will speak during the event.
Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said he is glad the event is taking place, saying it maintains a tradition in Boone County.
“It’s part of our heritage, certainly, in coal country,” Stollings said. “These are unprecedented times, and coal country has so many problems with the downturn in the economy resulting in substance abuse disorder and realizing we are not connected well to the internet. This is such an important time for us, as leaders, to be thinking about the future of what people call coal country.”
Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone, said he will miss the camaraderie of the event, but having the event virtually will be beneficial in honoring laborers and keeping a sense of normalcy during the pandemic.
“In the face of what we’re doing, we’re trying to keep some normalcy going,” Miller said. “Of course, you’ve got hardworking people out here trying to make a living and trying to help other people every day. Now, it is as important as ever to celebrate those people that are out in the workforce and doing the right thing to keep our communities going and moving forward, especially those people that are out here risking themselves to keep people safe, help keep food on the table and do all the little things that could conceivably keep up some sense of normalcy.”
Roberts and Miller each said they are optimistic for the event to happen next year to commemorate workers present and past, given that 2021 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in U.S. history.
“We can all agree that was a pivotal moment in American labor throughout the United States and throughout the world,” Miller said. “It was significant and, because of it, we continue to honor the hardworking West Virginians that we have today.”