ATLANTA — “We’re getting support from unions all over the country for the April 6 rally” to back United Mine Workers of America members who’ve been on strike for a year in Brookwood, Alabama, UMWA Director of Communications Erin Bates told the Militant by phone March 21.
Some 1,100 miners have been on strike at Warrior Met Coal since April 1, 2021, fighting to win back concessions forced on them in 2016. “Our message is, ‘We’re not backing down!’” Bates said.
The UMWA and other unions are organizing buses to bring members, retirees and other supporters to show solidarity. “This is going to be an all-day event. There will be music, entertainment, activities for kids, and speakers from many different unions, including UMWA President Cecil Roberts,” she added. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Tannehill State Park in McCalla, Alabama.
This hard-fought union battle is the first UMWA strike in Brookwood in decades and is now one of the longest strikes in Alabama history. Contributions to the union’s strike fund from many unions and individuals have totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars and made it possible to pay benefits to the miners. A well-organized auxiliary started by miners’ wives continues to get contributions and provide food, diapers, cleaning supplies and other necessities to their families.
Warrior Met is a top U.S. producer of metallurgical coal used in steel production worldwide. It was created following the 2015 bankruptcy of Jim Walter Resources and its parent company, Walter Energy.
With the aid of a bankruptcy court, BlackRock and other billionaire creditors set up Warrior Met Coal and took over mine operations. Union miners had to accept major concessions, the company said, or it would close down. Coal bosses went after wages and working conditions that UMWA members had fought for and won over decades, with the company promising to reverse these cuts when it returned to profitability.
Under the five-year contract in 2016, the company forced greater use of outside contractors, wage cuts of more than 20%, loss of sick days and holidays, higher costs for health care, replacement of the defined-benefit pension plan with a 401(k) plan, no overtime pay until after 40 hours work, widening wage gaps between job classifications, loss of paid lunches, forced Sunday work, attempts to shortcut safety to speed up production and other attacks.
Since then, Warrior Met has become extremely profitable. The company is paying shareholders $852 million in dividends, a special cash dividend of $190 million and paying CEO Walter Scheller over $17 million.
The union was forced to stop picketing Oct. 27, after the company got a restraining order from Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge James Roberts banning all picketing and union activity within 300 yards of the mine entrances. After extending the order several times, the union was able to resume picket lines in February, limited, however, to just a few pickets.
“The strikers need this show of support to get through this strike,” said Shirley Hyche, who retired from the No. 7 mine in 2008, after working underground for 27 years.
Spread the word about the miners’ fight! Join the rally! Send donations to UMWA 2021 Strike Fund at P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026. Send messages of support to UMWA District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216 (Miners’ Memorial Parkway), McCalla, AL 35111. Phone (205) 477-7500.