MCCALLA, Ala. — Over 1,100 United Mine Workers of America coal miners are locked in a serious strike against Warrior Met Coal bosses in Brookwood, Alabama. They are backed by family members, UMWA retirees and members from other mines, workers in the area, and by other unions.
They marked their fourth week on strike with a solidarity rally at Tannehill State Park here April 28.
This was the second rally to back the miners, who went on strike in a fight to regain ground lost over the last five years in wages, benefits and working conditions.
The 2016 contract, which expired April 1, was forced on the union under pressure of the bankruptcy of the previous mine owner, Jim Walter Resources. Owners of Warrior Met, a “new” company run by the major creditors of Jim Walter, used the bankruptcy reorganization to go after the workers. They insisted the union accept wage cuts, higher medical costs, loss of holidays and overtime pay, and much more, giving up gains fought for and won over decades by the union miners.
The miners work at two underground mines, No. 4 and No. 7; a coal-preparation plant; and in the company’s central shop.
“We went to the rally to support the Warrior Met miners and for the unity of all coal miners,” Anthony Davis told the Militant by phone May 1. He is vice president of UMWA Local 2133 at the Oak Grove mine in nearby Bessemer. More than 100 Local 2133 members attended the April 28 rally, Davis said.
“We posted a ‘memorial day,’ so that everyone could take off and attend the rally,” he said. Their union contract enables miners to take off 10 days a year for union purposes.
“Miners at Oak Grove are aware of how bad the conditions are at the Warrior Met mines,” Davis said. “And we support them in their strike. Miners from our local are joining the Warrior Met picket lines.”
Retiree Maxwell Wilson was one of the Oak Grove miners at the rally. “I’m talking to our younger members about the stakes in this fight,” he told the Militant after the rally. “If the company prevails in the Warrior Met strike, there will be a target on the back of every other mine union local in Alabama.”
A delegation of a dozen members of the American Federation of Teachers, which has backed the strike from the outset, were called to the stage and introduced. Six members of United Steelworkers Local 1013 at U.S. Steel in Fairfield, and a group of Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union members were also on hand to lend support.
“Today is Workers Memorial Day, celebrated by every union in the United States of America every April 28,” said featured speaker UMWA President Cecil Roberts. “Today before you get home tonight and put your head on your pillow, another worker somewhere in this country will be killed on the job.”
The entire Brookwood community remembers well the Sept. 23, 2001, explosions at the then-Jim Walter Resources mine No. 5 that killed 13 miners.
Roberts told the rally that the union would now begin holding marches, as well as weekly rallies, to back the strike.
Bren Riley, president of the Alabama AFL-CIO and member of the United Steelworkers, recalled how 200 UMWA members, dressed in camouflage, had come to the Goodyear plant in Gadsden to show their support of the USW’s strike there in 2006.
Warrior Met is using managers and strikebreakers, some of whom were contract workers before the strike started, to mine coal at the No. 7 mine. Picketing UMWA strikers report that a few union members have crossed the picket line.
Ongoing solidarity rallies will continue every Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. here at Tannehill State Park.
Bring your co-workers and fellow unionists to join the rallies! Send contributions and messages of support to UMWA District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216 (Miners’ Memorial Parkway), McCalla, AL 35111. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel.: (205) 477-7500. Fax: (205) 477-0004.
John Benson contributed to this article.