ATLANTA — In an outrageous assault on workers’ rights, Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge James H. Roberts Jr. handed down a restraining order Oct. 27 ordering the United Mine Workers of America to halt all picketing or any other union activity within 300 yards of Warrior Met Coal. It covers all 12 of the mine entrances, railroad crossings and other sites in Brookwood, Alabama, where striking union members have been picketing since the walkout began.
“The judge has said ‘no picketing’ for the time being,” striker Steven Smith told the Militant in an Oct. 30 phone interview. “We still have our canopies and signs and portable johns out there, but no people are allowed for the time being.”
Smith is one of some 1,100 UMWA members who have been on strike at Warrior Met Coal since April 1. When the strike started, he was working at the No. 4 mine, one of two underground mines at the company’s Tuscaloosa County operations.
When the miners walked out, they shut down Warrior Met’s two deep underground mines, a coal-preparation plant and the company’s central shops.
The miners are in a hard-fought strike to regain ground lost in 2016, when the union took major concessions in wages, benefits and working conditions after previous owner Jim Walter Resources went bankrupt.
The mine’s new owners, led by the company’s outstanding creditors, the largest of which is the New York-based BlackRock hedge fund, used the bankruptcy court hearings as well as threats to close the mines to demand the union give up gains they had won over many decades. They promised the concessions — which the union estimates put $1.4 billion into the owners’ pockets — would only last until the new bosses got the mine back on its feet. But when negotiations began on a new contract, the company insisted on even more concessions. Nov. 1 marks the start of the eighth month of the strike.
Warrior Met sought the anti-union injunction after helping whip up a media push to violence-bait the union and blame picketing strikers for confrontations with scabs at mine entrances. The compliant court quickly granted the sweeping order.
Early in the strike the company started busing scabs into the No. 7 mine, where some production has been going on. Other scabs drive in. All are escorted by Alabama state troopers.
“Warrior Met Coal is condemning the recent increase in vandalism and violence by the UMWA leadership and members,” the online Business Wire claimed Oct. 25. The mine bosses charge union pickets have “increased attacks on personal vehicles, property, and uninvolved community members,” and that “our employees’ homes and vehicles have been shot at from passing cars, and jack rocks and spike strips have been placed on area roads to damage their vehicle tires.”
The judge bought the whole story. The restraining order contains “provisions that are unconstitutional and it reinforces the notion that Americans — at least in Alabama — are not free to enjoy their rights to free speech and free assembly,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts told the press Oct. 28. “We remain ready to engage in serious and good-faith negotiations to resolve this dispute, but this TRO will not stop our strike.”
A hearing on boss demands to extend the restraining order has been set for Nov. 5.
Attacks on strikers
In sharp contrast, local, county and state police have refused to take any action against Warrior Met management personnel and other scabs who on several occasions have purposely struck miners or family members peacefully picketing at No. 7 mine entrances with their cars. On Aug. 25, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed union charges about these vehicular assaults, despite film footage evidence and eyewitness reports. Several assaults resulted in strikers being sent to the hospital.
“It appears that it is now open season on strikers walking the picket lines,” Roberts said after the ruling. The union has appealed.
Meanwhile, BlackRock boasts of record profits, reporting Oct. 13 their net income had risen 19% to $1.69 billion for the last three months over a year ago. They say they now manage some $9.46 trillion in assets — more than the gross national product of many countries.
The UMWA and the New York City Central Labor Council called for a protest in support of the Warrior Met strikers Nov. 4, stepping off from 59th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and marching to BlackRock headquarters at 40 E. 52nd Street for a rally. Miners from Alabama and elsewhere will be joined by area unionists.
The truth about this labor battle needs to be told! Support and solidarity are essential. Make your checks out to UMWA 2021 Strike Aid Fund and send them to UMWA Strike Fund, P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026.
Messages of support can also be sent to District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216, McCalla, AL 35111, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.