BROOKWOOD, Ala. – “We’re not going to give in to Warrior Met,” striking United Mine Workers of America member Greg Pilkerton told the Militant as people were gathering for the union’s solidarity rally here Aug. 17. He is one of hundreds of UMWA members who have been waging a hard-fought strike against Warrior Met Coal since April 2021. Pilkerton has worked at the mine for 25 years. “We’ll be out as long as it takes to win a contract we can accept,” he said.
Some 200 striking UMWA miners, retirees, and family members turned out for the rally, held at UMWA Local 2397’s union hall. The local represents miners who work at Warrior Met’s No. 7 mine. In addition to weekly picket duty, Pilkerton works on track maintenance for a freight rail carrier. Most strikers have had to get other jobs to get by.
“It’s time to get back out there and take control of this strike,” UMWA International District 20 Vice-President Larry Spencer told participants. He reported that recently union pickets succeeded in turning back a crane that Warrior Met was trying to bring onto company property.
“It’s very important to be back on the strike lines,” striker Antwon Mcghee, who has worked at Warrior Met for 17 years, told the Militant. He was one of the pickets who talked to the crane operator, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers. “The company wanted to get the crane to the mine entrance and told the driver there was no strike!” Mcghee said. “We told him what was really happening and he refused to take the crane across the picket line.”
UMWA President Cecil Roberts also spoke at the rally, as he has at most rallies since the strike began. “I was a guest at the recent National Association of Letter Carriers convention in Chicago,” Roberts told the crowd. “Some 5,000 delegates and guests showed their support for you and all the other Warrior Met strikers with a standing ovation and a contribution of $50,000 to the union’s strike fund.”
Spencer reported the UMWA auxiliary’s pantry — which organizes and supplies essentials to strikers and their families — had been flooded a few days earlier because of a broken water main. “Everyone pitched in and worked overtime to clean up the mess and put together the bags of food and other supplies in time for the rally today!”
The rally took place three weeks after the supposedly nonpartisan National Labor Relations Board Region 10 hit the UMWA with a massive $13.3 million fine, backing Warrior Met bosses’ charges that the union should be held liable for the company for costs incurred during the strike. This includes hiring more security, lost revenues from unmined coal, as well as repairs for damages to company sites they blame on union members.
The union rejects the charges and refuses to pay the fine. “What’s extremely troubling here is that the NLRB appears to have taken up the company’s cause without a second thought,” said Roberts in a statement released Aug. 3 after the fines were levied. “Warrior Met Coal instigated this strike and has brutally extended it through its sustained unwillingness to reach a fair and reasonable agreement. We have no intention of paying its costs for doing so. The right to strike in America must be preserved.”
Solidarity with striking miners!
Over 1,100 union members walked out 16 months ago at Warrior Met’s operations in Tuscaloosa County, which include the No. 4 and No. 7 mines, a preparation plant and central shop. Picket lines were also set up at several railroad crossings.
Warrior Met — which produces metallurgical coal for use in producing steel by manufacturers abroad — was set up in 2016 by the biggest creditors of the mines’ previous owner, Jim Walter Resources, which had filed for bankruptcy. The new company bosses imposed major concessions in wages, benefits, and working conditions on the union as the price miners would have to pay to keep the mines open. The company promised the cuts would be restored when profits started rolling in.
The union estimates the workers gave up $1.1 billion over the five years of the contract. In 2021, the company broke their promise, offering union members a measly $1.50-an-hour raise over five years, which the miners overwhelmingly rejected.
The company has been mining coal at both struck mines, using management personnel and scabs, including some union members who have crossed the picket line.
In the fall of 2021, the company won a court order from a compliant Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court judge, which has been extended several times, that barred all picketing and other union activity within 300 yards of Warrior Met Coal gates. The court allowed picketing to resume in February, but mandated ongoing restrictions.
The union has been organizing regular solidarity rallies since shortly after the strike started. The next rally will be at 6 p.m., Aug. 31, at UMWA Local 2397’s union hall. The auxiliary always provides refreshments.
Solidarity with the UMWA strikers! Come to the Aug. 31 rally! Send checks to the UMWA 2021 Strike Fund, P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026. Send messages of support to UMWA District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216, McCalla, AL 35111. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.