The 1973 OPEC oil crisis found the United Mine Workers as bitter and disorganized as the Crow tribe. Its new president, Arnold Miller, couldn’t control the rank and file. Its international executive board was divided between Miller loyalists and holdovers from the Boyle era. John L. Lewis’s great virtue had been his ability to make a deal and stick to it. But now there was no one who could reliably speak for the union.
In the UMW’s new reformed leadership, Ted Leisenring believed he saw an opening for a new era in union-operator relations. Why not, he reasoned, make a reciprocal gesture? Thus in his capacity as chairman of the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, Ted offered the BCOA presidency to Joseph Brennan, the union loyalist who had worked for John L. Lewis and his successors since the late 1950s.
Brennan was the son of Mart Brennan, a UMW district president in the Pennsylvania anthracite region and an International board member. His family roots in the UMW extended back almost to the union’s origins in 1890. Joe Brennan himself held a bachelor’s degree in economics from Notre Dame and an MBA in marketing from American University. He had served on the UMW’s bargaining team during the 1971 national contract negotiations. He understood the union’s inner workings and was completely trusted by union men and operators alike. In effect Brennan would occupy a unique position as a protégé of both John L. Lewis and Ted Leisenring. But Ted believed Brennan’s presence in the BCOA president’s chair would signal to labor that the operators had the interests of both parties at heart.
Unfortunately for this strategy, Arnold Miller was too preoccupied with the ideal of democratizing the UMW to reciprocate such signals. In the process of cleaning out Boyle’s cronies, Miller replaced many veteran district