Originally published in the Auburn Reporter, September 2, 1985
From left, Carl Steiert, Louis Zumek and Ted Barner recall the role organized labor played in Black Diamond’s early years. (Staff photo by Duane Hamamura.)
Small town unionists recall glory days
By Bruce Rommel, staff reporter
The residents of Black Diamond gather again today, as they have done each Labor Day for decades, to honor America’s working men and women.
Retired coal mines and their descendants will join others to carry on what has become one of the area’s few community observances of Labor Day.
And they’ll have a good time while they’re at it.
Black Diamond’s annual Labor Day parade begins at 10 a.m. on Third Avenue, ending at the Black Diamond Elementary School.
There will be brief ceremonies commemorating the American labor reform movement, followed by an afternoon of games and activities for children and adults.
On that morning in 1932 when Louis Zumek first went down into the coal mines near Black Diamond, he felt lucky to have a job. In those Depression days, he figured $4.71 a day was a fair wage for a kid like himself just out of high school.
Atop his head was one of those new fabricated metal safety devices that working men instantly dubbed the “hardhat.” Strapped to his belt was another recent safety innovation, a metal canister the miners called a “sardine can,” containing a 30-minute oxygen supply in the event of underground emergencies.
“The union always was pushing for safety for the miners,” said Zumek, a 71-year-old Black Diamond resident who once worked the Pacific Coast Coal Co. mines as a motorman and a rope rider, the man who uncoupled loaded mining cars and hooked up empty cars to go back underground.
It was hard work underground during the 1930s when Zumek worked the mines. If you put in extra hours you got extra pay, straight time.
Higher pay for overtime hours was another major goal toward which the United Mine Workers Union and its legendary president, John L. Lewis were relentlessly pushing. Continue Reading »