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Coal miners go on strike in Montana
Ratify contract after 10-day walkout
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 72/No. 26      June 30, 2008


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(lead article)
Coal miners go on strike in Montana
Ratify contract after 10-day walkout
Billings Gazette/Larry Mayer
Coal miners at the Absaloka Mine near Hardin, Montana, picket the mine’s access road.

June 17—Following a 10-day strike, 125 members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 400 at the Absaloka Mine near Hardin, Montana, accepted a contract proposal yesterday from Westmoreland Resources. This was the first strike since the mine opened in 1974.

The coal reserves on the 15,000-acre mine site are leased from the Crow Tribe.

KTVQ-TV in Billings, Montana, reported that “tribal senator and coal miner Conrad Stewart says 87 percent of the miners are members of the Crow Tribe and when it comes to coal miners around the country—they are some of the lowest paid.” Steward told the station, “We’re standing for something bigger than just a strike here—we’re looking at a lifestyle and we’re trying to better our futures here.”

After working without a contract since March 20, the miners rejected a June 3 “final offer” from the company and set up picket lines on June 7. The miners demanded a three-year contract, as opposed to the company’s five-year proposal, better shift scheduling, and benefits and pay comparable to workers at other Westmoreland mines.

Top pay scale for miners at the sister Rosebud Mine nearby is $25.52 an hour, compared to $22.25 an hour at the Absaloka Mine. Miners told local media that because of forced overtime they could not get a weekend off without using vacation time. “Miners said they have been unreasonably pressured by supervisors if they stopped for a breather,” the Billings Gazette reported.

On June 11, Westmoreland proposed a second contract offer that included a three-year contract. This was overwhelmingly rejected and the miners continued their strike. George Golie, union negotiator for Local 400, told the Billings Gazette that “Westmoreland brought a shorter contract to the bargaining table Wednesday, but it wasn’t enough. We went over the latest contract offer proposal from Westmoreland Resources, and it was rejected by a large margin. It was a very, very large margin.”

A third contract proposal was made by Westmoreland after union and company representatives met with a federal mediator. On June 16, the miners approved this proposal and returned to work the next day.

According to the June 17 Gazette, the three-year contract includes a modest pay raise, with back pay to March. The Gazette reported that Golie said the contact does not bring miners up to pay parity with Rosebud miners.

“The new contract calls for 12-hour shifts, extending the average workday for miners from two to four hours, depending on the job,” the Gazette continued. Golie told the Gazette that the new terms should, however, make work schedules more predictable.

In 2007 the Absaloka Mine produced a record 7.4 million tons of coal.
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