Winning back wages, gains lost in 2016 key to miners

By Kaitlin Estill
September 20, 2021

BROOKWOOD, Ala. — Over 1,100 members of the United Mine Workers of America have been on strike against Warrior Met Coal here since April 1, fighting to regain historic wages and working conditions they won in past battles. The strike occurs amid a pro-boss media blackout and fierce resistance by the anti-union bosses. Solidarity from unions and workers in the area and beyond has been crucial to their resolve to fight until they are successful.

“We’ll be here one day longer than the company will,” Haeden Wright, a leader of the UMWA auxiliary organizing support and relief efforts for striking miners’ families, told ABC News Aug. 6. “I don’t think we’re giving up. We’re already planning a toy drive for Christmas.”

The union miners are fighting to win back much of what they lost when Jim Walter Resources, the former mine owner, went bankrupt in 2015. Under court proceedings, the largest outstanding company creditors, led by BlackRock and other New York hedge funds, told workers they would close down the company’s mines and processing centers unless they agreed to significant concessions.

This included up to a $6-an-hour pay cut, higher health care costs and a significant reduction in paid holidays. The new bosses imposed a draconian attendance policy of four strikes and you’re fired. The only “valid” reason for missing work was an immediate death in the family.

Miners resist concession demands

The bosses told workers that after production resumed and income came in, they would restore some of what miners gave up. The mine is now turning a considerable profit, but when new contract talks began, the bosses instead demanded new concessions. The miners said no and went out on strike.

The coal mined out of Warrior Met is metallurgical coal, used in the production of steel, in high demand in the U.S. and abroad as steel bosses jockey for markets and profits.

In addition to bringing bottled water and ice to the picket lines and solidarity from our co-workers, this Militant worker-correspondent and others visited with area workers on their doorsteps to discuss the importance of supporting the strike.

“I realized a long time ago, if I don’t stand up for and with my fellow countrymen, no one will be left to stand up with me,” Bryan Shields, a Chick-fil-A worker and handyman in nearby Cottondale, told me. He said he hadn’t heard about the miners’ fight, a reflection of the news blackout. He asked what he could do to help.

“People need to learn their story,” I said. “These miners need solidarity, not only financial support but to know other working people appreciate their example of strength and stand with them.” I showed him coverage of the fight in the Militant. He got a subscription and Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? by Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes.

We stayed at a small hotel, where we met La Toya Henson, who works there. “I know a lot of people who are coal miners. Being asked to take a wage cut to save a company, that’s a hard decision to make. But the miners did it and now they just want what they had back,” she said. “And these corporate types would never dream of taking a cut. They just don’t care about workers. And if they can push these coal miners around that sets a bad precedent for all of us.”

Along with workers, coal bosses around the country are following this labor struggle closely. Peabody Energy is currently in contract talks with the UMWA over reopening their nearby Shoal Creek mine.

Peabody bosses are looking for workers. Strikers said they’ve visited some of the picket lines looking to hire. They hope this local competition will put pressure on Warrior Met. A tentative contract agreement between Peabody and the UMWA will be voted on soon, the union said.

Support and solidarity are needed! Help spread the word about the strike! All checks should be made out to UMWA 2021 Strike Fund and sent to UMWA Strike Fund, P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026. Messages of support can be sent to District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216, McCalla, AL 35111. Email: