Actively Retired is a periodic feature highlighting UMWA retirees still working on behalf of the union. If you’d like to recommend a retiree to appear in Actively Retired, write to the Journal, UMWA, 8315 Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA 22031, Attn: Actively Retired. Please include your name, local union, a telephone number and a brief explanation of why you’re nominating the individual.
Sixty-year L.U. 6290 member George Holupka of Nemacolin, Pa., keeps so busy assisting other pensioners and miners’ widows, making sure unemployed members are fed and volunteering for other UMWA activities that even his wife of 45 years, Patty, has a hard time tracking him down.
A member of the UMWA’s Pensioner Leadership Committee, the 77-year-old activist spends a lot of time visiting and helping UMWA widows and older pensioners, who sometimes don’t understand everything about their pensions and benefits. “I’m honored to help those who served our union so long—by deciphering letters, cutting red tape and dealing with lawyers,” he said. “I’m available at all hours to drive them to their lawyers, doctors and hospitals.”
Holupka, currently L.U. 6290’s recording secretary and treasurer, also works with the Subdistrict 4 food bank to ensure that laid-off miners and their families are receiving food. And he remains politically active on behalf of the UMWA—especially around election time—and serves as vice president of the Nemacolin community council.
“George is one the backbones of our District,” said District 2 IEB member Dan Kane. “Anytime we need him, he is always there.”District 2 President Ed Yankovich agreed, adding, “He is a dedicated and hard-working leader who continues to vigorously pursue the goals of our great union. As a champion of our issues, George sets an outstanding example to all retirees and active members.”
“One of our most important goals is to attract more young workers into our union,” observed Holupka. “Too many kids today don’t understand the benefits they can reap from union membership. Since many have it easier than their parents did, they still think unions are not for them. Well, I’ve got something to tell them,” he stressed: “Our union is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. The UMWA can help all workers—young and old alike. We must get our message across to those who question the viability of unions in today’s workplaces. We must convince the younger generation that the UMWA can improve their lifestyles—through greater health care and pensions—even more than it helped improve the older generation’s quality of life.”
Having just received his special 60-year pin, Holupka knows what he’s talking about. He joined the UMWA at age 17 on July 16, 1941—shortly before the U.S. entered World War II. Within months, he answered Uncle Sam’s call and served in the Army’s 98th Signal Battalion under General MacArthur in the Philippines. In 1946, he returned to LTV’s Nemacolin Mine prep plant, where he worked his entire career of nearly 47 years. “I started as a laborer,” he recalled, “and then sampled coal before floating from job to job. I could walk to work every day. Just before the mine closed, I did water treatment work seven days a week.”
“It’s important to stay active in my union,” he said, “because we have many issues to resolve. We must protect our health care, pensions and other benefits. About black lung, he said, “miners are sick and tired of going back and forth to doctors and being rejected. We are hopeful the new rules will make it easier for victims to get the compensation to which they are entitled.”
Holupka does find time for two other passions: golf and attending Pittsburgh Steelers games for the past 54 years. “I must be one of the Steelers’ oldest season ticket-holders.”
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