Voluntary International Migrants and Unions

Author: Sara Chavarria
Editor: Stephanie Nardei

Time: 1-2 Class Periods
Print Overhead 1
Make class reference sets of Handouts 1, 2, & 3
Make copies of Handout 4 for each student
Materials: Overhead 1: Intro Statement
Handout 1: Miners
Handout 2: Black Lung
Handout 3: UMWA
Handout 4: Migrant Workers


This Engage lesson introduces students to the fight for farm worker rights by introducing them to a brief history of miner’s and their plight for equal rights in the work place. Students will understand part of the union movement was for basic human rights that addressed conditions like: wages, work hours, benefits, and health protection.

Students will be able to:
1. Document information about the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and Black Lung disease through class discussion of relevant readings.

Historical Thinking Standards

  • Standard 2B: Identify the central question(s) the historical narrative addresses.
  • Standard 4A: Formulate historical questions.

United States History Standards

  • Era 9 Standard 4: The struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.

Teacher Background
If Applicable.

Resource Websites

Miners: http://www.sip.ie/sip019B/conditions/conditions.htm
Black Lung: http://www.umwa.org/blacklung/blacklung.shtml
UMWA http://www.umwa.org/history/hist1.shtml
Pneumoconiosis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pneumoconiosis



1. Display Overhead 1 as students walk in. As a class, read the statement.

Introductory Statement: The lure of a better life, Moving from one country to another.

The U.S. is defined by its diverse ethnic make-up. Today, most Americans can claim to be descendants from migrants who came from Europe, Asia, Africa, or from countries from elsewhere in the Americas.. Arriving as immigrants they worked to create new lives for themselves. A dominant pull factor was the lure of a better life than in their homeland (land of their birth). Many came and willingly worked in pursuit of the dream of an improved life. Their willingness was often taken advantage of. However, as they became citizens and their descendants were born American, they became aware of their rights as set out by their new homeland, the United States. No longer the global nomads but now sedentary nationalists, Americans explored how best to achieve access to their inalienable rights.

Social, political, and economic movements defined equality and challenged how people should live to have access to a fulfilling lifestyle arose. Amidst this were workers’ movements organized through unions. These workers brought to attention poor working conditions, low wages, and long hours to a more socially conscious nation.

2. End by noting today students will understand why workers felt the need to unite.
Notes: The mine workers since time immemorial worked in unhealthy air conditions in which limited air in underground conditions surrounded by exploding dust and noise and explosive chemicals jeopardized their lungs and other internal organs. Not a new problem, it was none-the-less a problem that finally been addressed through unionization in 1890 when the United Mine Workers of America was organized.

3. Hand each student a copy of Handout 1.

4. Have students take turns reading out loud in class.

5. Have students answer the following questions in their notes through class discussion.

  • What is addressed in this reading?
  • Explain the working conditions in the mines.
  • Is it hazardous? How so?
  • Who is working in the mines? Men, women, children.
  • What is a typical work day?
  • What is a typical wage?
  • What are sanitary conditions?

6. When done, collect articles and give students Handouts 2 and 3 and tell them to quietly read the articles in class. (10 minutes)

7. Have students address the following questions:

  • Define Black lung disease and its’ causes.
  • Define the UMWA and its’ accomplishments.
  • What action was taken by the government to regulate and eradicate Black Lung disease? (Give dates and legislation.)
  • Has Black Lung disease been eradicated? Explain.

    Important UMWA dates:
  • Shorter working hours (an 8-hour day by 1898)
  • Collective bargaining rights (1933)
  • Health and retirement benefits (1946)
  • Health and safety protections (1969)

By persistently addressing worker rights, attention was drawn to health conditions developed from working in such closed air conditions in which exposure to dust, chemicals, and noise was a constant.

8. Review what was learned about the UMWA movement.

  • Students should identify importance of fighting for equal rights in the work place
  • Students should be able to address raised health awareness issues.
  • Students should be aware of current situation with Black Lung disease.

9. As a transition to the next lesson, give students Handout 4. Read aloud in class.

10. End by explaining in the next lesson, students will understand individual workers own fight for equality would take much longer than a group effort.

11. Pose the question to ponder:
Why did it take the farm workers longer to get organized into unions?

If applicable

Embedded Assessment
Discussion and participation in class



PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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