ATLANTA — “We’re keeping up our weekly solidarity rallies,” striking Warrior Met coal miner Otis Sims told the Militant in a phone interview May 29. “They’re important. Now we have them outside UMWA Local 2397’s union hall in Brookwood every Wednesday at 5 p.m. to hear about what’s happening with our strike and new support.”
Sims, who has worked underground in the mines for 43 years, was a longwall operator at Warrior Met Coal’s No. 4 mine in Brookwood, Alabama, when the strike began last April 1, 14 months ago.
At the May 25 rally, Sims said, United Mine Workers of America officials reported that in recent negotiating sessions between the union and Warrior Met, the company insisted that a contract settlement can’t be reached unless the UMWA agrees that the company can fire 37 miners for picket line activity. “We won’t go on that,” said Sims. “That won’t do. Everyone needs to go back to work if the strike is to be settled.”
This is the latest effort by the company to violence-bait the union for alleged incidents on the picket lines. Similar trumped-up charges resulted in a court injunction last October that barred all picketing for several months, a serious attack on union members’ constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. That injunction has been lifted and the union now organizes picketing at the two mines, the coal preparation plant and other sites of Warrior Met’s Brookwood operations.
The company’s war of attrition against the union also includes hiring scab contract workers to work alongside company people and some union members who have crossed the picket line, ramping up production at both the No. 4 and No. 7 mines.
Warrior Met Coal took over the mines from Jim Walter Resources in 2015 when that company declared bankruptcy. Formed by BlackRock, a multi-trillion-dollar hedge fund, and other creditors, Warrior Met bosses said the miners had to accept steep concessions in wages and working conditions or they would shutter the mining complex.
The contract slashed gains that miners had fought for and won over decades in wages, benefits, working conditions, union rights and dignity on the job.
Since then, Warrior Met has been making big profits from international sales of the metallurgical coal produced at the mines, which is used in making steel. Its price has risen 220% over last year, in part due to the war in Ukraine. But in talks over a new contract, bosses have refused union demands that they make good on earlier promises to restore the cuts that had been forced on the miners.
Meanwhile, solidarity for the strike continues to grow as more unions and other working people learn about the strike and what the miners are fighting for. A spirited rally April 6 on its one-year anniversary held at Tannehill State Park near Brookwood drew 1,500 United Mine Workers members, retirees and family members, and members of other unions. The action registered the miners’ determination to continue their fight. Union speakers brought messages of solidarity and contributions from around the country.
The list of contributors to the UMWA strike fund for the Warrior Met miners lists hundreds of individuals; UMWA locals; AFL-CIO national, state, and local bodies; unions representing workers in a wide range of occupations; and others.
“At last week’s rally they also announced that there have been so many contributions to the strike fund that every miner is going to receive a special $2,000 payment in addition to the weekly strike benefits,” Sims said. Most strikers have gotten other jobs to help keep their families going, he added, while maintaining their picket duty.
Meanwhile, BlackRock management, at their shareholders’ meeting in April, called for Warrior Met to “reach a resolution” to the strike. UMWA members from Alabama, West Virginia, Kentucky and other states have carried out informational protests at BlackRock’s offices in New York and other locations over the past year. Warrior Met’s owners announced recently that they will develop a new longwall mine as part of their Brookwood operations, planning to spend $650 million to $700 million over the next five years.
Help spread the word about the strike, one of the longest and most important taking place in the country! Visit Brookwood and walk the picket lines with the miners! All donation 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 also be sent to District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216, McCalla, AL 35111 or emailed to email@example.com.