BRISTOL, Va., July 15 (UPI) -- Sam Church, whose United Mine Workers of America presidency was pocked by wildcat strikes and a national walkout, died at his Virginia home, the union said.
Church, 72, died in Bristol Tuesday of complications resulting from surgery, union officials and family said.
"Today is a very sad day for the UMWA family," the union's international president, Cecil E. Roberts, said in a statement posted on the union's Web site. "Throughout his life, Sam Church's dedication to the UMWA and all working families never wavered."
Church began working the coal mines in 1965 as an electrician and mechanic for Clitchfield Coal Co. in southwestern Virginia.
His first foray into union politics came in 1973, when he was elected to a UMWA District 23 office, the union's Web site said. In 1977, Church was elected the union's vice president on President Arnold Miller's ticket and became president in November 1979, when Miller resigned after suffering a second heart attack.
During Church's presidency, the UMWA was hit by both mine automation and wildcat strikes that drove down membership. In 1981, Church led the union on a two-month nationwide coal strike. When the membership rejected a tentative contract, he negotiated a new agreement that led to improvements in benefits.
The following year, Church lost his bid for re-election to Rich Trumka.
"Sam was a good friend and a good labor leader," said Trumka, now AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer. "He was a union man from the top of his head to the tips of his toes."
Church is survived by his wife Patti and a son.