MCCALLA, Ala. — “We now have $100,000 more in the strike fund to support Warrior Met miners,” United Mine Workers of America International District 20 Vice President Larry Spencer told the union’s weekly solidarity rally here June 2. “We’ve received even more, but that’s what we have access to right now. More than 800 people have contributed to the fund.”
State AFL-CIOs from 14 states have contributed, along with many unions, from the American Federation of Teachers to the United Steelworkers, and from several dozen UMWA locals. Donations from Walmart workers at two stores in Atlanta, including some raised by this Militant worker-correspondent, are among the contributors listed on the union’s website.
The strike fund is to aid the 1,100 UMWA members who are on strike against Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, one of the largest labor battles in the country today. They walked off the job April 1 after the expiration of their old contract, which had been forced on them in 2016 by the bankruptcy and reorganization of the previous mine owner, Jim Walter Resources, out of which Warrior Met was set up by creditors.
Miners took a $6 to $8 an hour pay cut, reduced health insurance and retirement benefits, and other concessions, with the promise that when the company got back on its feet, miners would regain what they had fought for and won over decades in wages and working conditions. The bosses never kept their promises.
One of the most onerous features of the 2016 contract was the attendance policy. “We were required to work six, sometimes seven days a week, for 12 hours a day,” James Traweek, who works at Warrior Met’s No. 7 mine, told the press June 1. “We worked on a four-strike system, which meant missing four days in a year resulted in termination. The only thing that was accepted as an excuse was a death in the immediate family. We had to work sick with the flu and many other illnesses in fear of losing our jobs.”
Many miners tell similar stories about getting “strikes” for having to leave work when their spouses or children had been rushed to the hospital or they faced other emergencies.
The miners get strike benefits from the UMWA fund, which also helps cover some health insurance.
A number of miners’ wives have organized a food bank to help strikers’ families make ends meet, providing food, diapers and other necessities. They set up distribution tables at union halls and the weekly solidarity rallies. They got donations from larger area food banks and financial contributions from unions and others to help buy additional food. “We have to take care of everyone,” one miner’s wife told this Militant worker-correspondent. So far, strikers aren’t eligible for state unemployment benefits because Warrior Met bosses have challenged their claims, tying them up in red tape.
Union members are picketing around the clock at the No. 4 and No. 7 mines, the preparation plant, central shops and railroad crossings surrounding the mines. The company is using contract workers, management personnel and scabs to mine coal at the No. 7 mine.
“We want to keep the picket lines peaceful,” Spencer told the rally. “We need to talk to the scabs, to try to make them understand that what they’re doing is wrong.” He also asked strikers to let the union know if they had received any calls from the company to come back to work. A few miners at the rally indicated that they had.
“We want better pay, we want fair treatment, and we want better insurance, but above all, we want to spend more time with our families,” Levi Allen, UMWA international secretary-treasurer, said, referring to the bosses elimination of all holidays for the miners except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas. “We are so proud of you for walking the line to win this strike, and we have to say ‘thanks’ to the wives and husbands who are with you every day, helping to win it. They know the union had no choice but to strike.” He said there were no negotiations over the last week, but the union was pressing the company to return to talks.
Support and solidarity are needed. Help to spread the word about the strike! All donation checks should be made out to UMWA 2021 Strike Aid Fund and sent to P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026.
Messages of support can also be sent to District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216, McCalla, AL 35111. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.