ATLANTA — “We are going to do whatever it takes to win this strike,” United Mine Workers of America union member and Warrior Met Coal striker Steven Smith told the Militant Sept. 23. “We’re not going to give up the picket line, no matter what.”
Smith is one of some 1,100 UMWA members who have been on strike at the mine complex in Brookwood, Alabama, since April 1. He was working day shift at the No. 4 mine when the strike started, loading trucks and trains with coal. He first met Militant correspondents on the picket line April 2 and was glad to give Militant readers an update on the strike.
Strikers staff picket lines 24/7 at the No. 4 and No. 7 mines, the central shops, preparation plant, and several railroad crossings. Brookwood is in central Alabama, near Tuscaloosa.
Like many other strikers, Smith is working another job now, as well as picketing every week. “Some strikers who had enough time in have retired and won’t go back,” Smith told me by phone. When he can, he also attends the union’s weekly solidarity rallies at nearby Tannehill State Park.
“At the rally last night, UMWA President Cecil Roberts told us the company wants to keep the scabs on the job ahead of the union members and start calling us back ‘as needed’ when the strike is ended,” Smith said. “We can’t accept that.” Roberts reported that the company hasn’t budged on wages or holidays. “So we have to keep the strike going.”
“We have been getting lots of support, even from workers at Walmart!” Smith said, adding that in addition to biweekly strike pay, union members each got an extra $150 this week because so many donations had been sent into the union strike fund, which continues to receive contributions from other unions, community organizations and individuals.
Strikers can pick up their checks at the Tannehill rallies, as well as food and other necessities collected by the UMWA Auxiliary, led by miners’ wives. They gather food, diapers, sanitary and other items, as well as cash donations, to distribute to strikers and their families.
The Alabama miners are fighting to regain ground lost in 2016 when they were forced to take major concessions after the mines’ previous owner, Jim Walter Resources, went bankrupt. The company’s biggest creditors, hedge funds like BlackRock from New York, organized Warrior Met Coal to take over the mines and told union members they would close operations unless the miners agreed to big cuts. They also promised to restore the workers’ losses when the company regained profitability.
The miners agreed to a $6-an-hour pay cut, and health care costs increased from a $12 co-pay to a $1,500 deductible. Extra overtime pay for Sundays and holidays was ended, along with no limit on forced overtime but with no overtime pay until after 40 hours; 13 annual paid holidays were cut to three; a draconian attendance policy was implemented; and other concessions.
The union estimates that these concessions cost workers $1.1 billion over the last five years — money that went straight into the bosses’ coffers.
This is the first UMWA contract strike in Alabama since the early 1980s. “It’s now the longest UMWA strike in Alabama’s history,” Smith said.
Smith and other miners follow recent strikes around the country, including at Nabisco, Frito-Lay and Volvo Truck. Workers there were able to push back against some of the bosses’ takeback demands by sticking together and fighting. This shows “why our strike is so important for everyone,” Smith said.
Pickets face boss attacks, state cops
On several occasions, Warrior Met management personnel have purposely struck with their cars miners or family members peacefully picketing at No. 7 mine entrances. Local, county and state police have refused to take any action.
The union filed charges against these company attacks with the National Labor Relations Board, but the board dismissed the union’s charges Aug. 25, despite the union submitting unmistakable film footage showing strikers being hit and eyewitness reports. (Videos are posted on the Mine Workers Facebook page.) Several assaults resulted in injured strikers being sent to the hospital.
Meanwhile, Alabama state troopers have been assigned to escort scabs past the UMWA picket line into Warrior Met Coal’s No. 7 mine. This “just looks like they’re working for the company,” UMWA spokesman Phil Smith told the media Sept. 17. “There hasn’t been any reason to be concerned about the buses [of scabs] going back and forth. It just looks like the company doesn’t need to hire its own security guards.”
The company hopes the scabs will keep No. 7 mine operating to meet outstanding coal orders and demoralize strikers and weaken their resolve.
Help spread the word about the strike! Donations should be sent to UMWA 2021 Strike Fund at 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.