CHARLESTON, W.Va. – (AP)Union leaders say a National Rifle Association film crew tried to coerce West Virginia miners into bad-mouthing presidential hopeful Barack Obama on camera, and that the union plans a brief work stoppage in protest.
The United Mine Workers will call for the stoppage at Consol’s Blacksville No. 2 mine next week, union President Cecil Roberts said Monday at a news conference with representatives of Obama’s West Virginia campaign in Charleston.
Roberts said the union, which has endorsed Democrat Obama for president, is unhappy that Consol allowed the camera crew to ask miners leading questions about the candidate such as:
‘What do you think about losing your Second Amendment rights?’
‘This, I think, is an attempt to try to twist the facts here,’ he said. ‘We’re just hoping people aren’t misled.’
The NRA has not endorsed a candidate. But it is sharply critical of Obama, calling him a ‘lying rabble rouser’ on its Web site and claiming he has supported numerous antigun measures.
Hunting and shooting are time-honored pursuits in West Virginia and gun ownership has been a pivotal issue in recent presidential elections. In 2000, then-NRA President Charlton Heston rallied members during a speech in Beckley a week before the election. Four years later, the NRA used billboards, 30-minute television infomercials and mailings in West Virginia as part of a $20 million national campaign to expose Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry as what the NRA called the ‘Cape Cod fraud.’
The gun lobby is gentler with Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. Executive Vice
President Wayne LaPierre has called the Arizona senator ‘a friend to gun owners.’
The NRA denied the union’s charges.
‘This is an effort by the Obama campaign to try and shift the focus away from Barack Obama’s abysmal record on guns,’ spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. ‘I checked with our crew that was out there and they said they didn’t coerce anyone.’
However, Blacksville miners Jim Toothman and Ken Foyles described it differently.
Toothman says a mine manager asked him to go outside to speak with the NRA, without warning him he’d be interviewed by a woman on camera.
‘She tried to lead me into how to word the answers,’ Toothman said. ‘I ended the conversation about that point.’
Foyles never went on camera after watching the crew coach a co-worker’s answers about her ‘concerns’ about Obama.
‘It was my impression they wanted me to bash Barack Obama,’ Foyles said.
A Consol spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Roberts called Obama a ‘great defender’ of the right to keep and bear arms and said running mate Joe Biden is a gun owner.
‘None of us believe that Barack Obama is going to take anyone’s guns,’ Roberts said.
A UMW official said the union represents 450 of the 500 employees at the mine in Monongalia County. The underground mine produces about 5 million tons of coal per year. UMW contracts allow ‘memorial periods,’ which halt production by allowing members an unpaid day off.
The Obama campaign, which turned away a camera crew working for the NRA from the news conference, released a one-page sheet outlining the Illinois senator’s support for the right to bear arms.