BROOKWOOD, Ala. — “We need national exposure for our strike,” Harold Young, a United Mine Workers of America union member on strike at Warrior Met Coal’s No. 4 mine, told the Militant on the picket line here May 16. Spreading the word about the strike is crucial for building solidarity.
“The company knows we’re only asking for what they took from us in 2016 and what other union miners have. We deserve more, with the cost of living going up all the time,” he said. Young has worked at the mine for 10 years.
Some 1,100 miners walked out April 1 in the first contract strike at these mines since 1981. They are staffing more than a dozen round-the-clock picket sites at two underground mines, No. 4 and No. 7, a preparation plant and central shops, along with several railroad crossings.
With the aid of a pro-boss bankruptcy court, the previous company, Jim Walter Resources, was “restructured” in 2016 and emerged as Warrior Met Coal. It is now highly profitable, due to strong demand for the metallurgical coal produced at its mines, used mainly to make steel.
When the company made a tentative offer to settle the strike just a few days after it started, miners were outraged when they learned the “offer” consisted of a $1.50 an hour raise over five years.
The union had agreed to concessions under pressure of the 2016 bankruptcy, where workers took a substantial pay cut and lost most paid holidays, overtime pay after eight hours, and paid half-hour lunches. They also took cuts in vacation days, personal days and were forced to pay more for medical care.
“All 700 of us got up, every one of us, and walked out of the room,” said Young. Miners voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike.
“We didn’t expect a strike,” Frankie Jackson, who has worked underground for 13 years, told the Militant. “A lot of us thought they would come across with something. It seems like they’re trying to break the union.”
“Have you been to the unity rallies?” miner Steve Smith asked John Hawkins and Maggie Trowe when they visited the picket line at the preparation plant May 16. “I urge everyone to come.” Hawkins, who lives in Chicago, worked in the Jim Walter mines from 1985 to 1997.
“At the last rally, [UMWA President] Cecil Roberts said he’s getting calls from all over the country from unionists asking how they can help,” Smith added. After talking with Hawkins and Trowe, Smith got a copy of Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs to learn more about the class-struggle battles that built the industrial unions in the 1930s, and subscribed to the Militant.
The union organizes rallies every Wednesday night at nearby Tannehill State Park. UMWA members from other mines, members of area unions, retired miners, family members of the strikers and others have been turning out. A concert to raise money for the strike fund is planned for Saturday, May 22 at noon, at 16946 Highway 216 in Brookwood, with free entry for UMWA members and their families and a suggested $20 donation for everyone else.
Some miners organized a “peaceful sit-in” at Warrior Met’s parking lot May 14, Jeff Fleenor, a heavy equipment operator at the mine, told the Tuscaloosa Thread. They blocked traffic for a few minutes before Brookwood police and Tuscaloosa County sheriff’s department deputies arrived. The miners decided to end their protest before getting arrested.
Strikers have filed for unemployment from the state of Alabama, but Warrior Met is contesting the claims. They get weekly strike benefits from the union.
Support and solidarity are needed. All donation checks should be made out to UMWA 2021 Strike Aid Fund and sent to: UMWA Strike Aid Fund, P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026.
Messages of support can also be sent to District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216 (Miners’ Memorial Parkway), McCalla, AL 35111. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel.: (205) 477-7500. Fax: (205) 477-0004.
Maggie Trowe and Kaitlin Estill from Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this article.