ATLANTA — “We had a successful rally Nov. 9,” striking United Mine Workers of America member Antwon Mcghee told the Militant Nov. 21. “There were several hundred miners and supporters there, including UMWA members and officials from seven states, as far away as New Mexico.
“It was our first actual march in a while,” he said, describing how strikers marched in Brookwood, Alabama, to the No. 5 preparation plant from the central mining office. UMWA President Cecil Roberts was the featured speaker.
Hundreds of UMWA members have been on strike against Warrior Met Coal there, since April 1, 2021. They are determined to prevail in this long and hard-fought strike to defend their union and win an acceptable contract.
“Our picketing is pretty strong,” Mcghee said. Because the strike has gone on for so long, many strikers have had to get other full-time jobs, including at other UMWA-organized mines, to support their families.
Mcghee has worked at the Warrior Met mines, formerly owned by Jim Walter Resources, for 17 years.
Many Warrior Met strikers are following closely the current fight by freight rail unions to win new national contracts that address the issues of safety, crew size, scheduling to allow for family life and other life-and-death questions.
“It’s wrong for the Biden administration to be putting pressure on the rail unions,” Mcghee said. “I thought they were supposed to be for the workers. The issues facing the rail workers are very similar to what we’re fighting for here at Warrior Met.”
“We’re able to have Thanksgiving this year thanks to our auxiliary,” he said. The UMWA auxiliary, organized mainly by strikers’ spouses, has been providing food, household supplies, diapers and other necessities to help strikers’ families get by.
The miners have won solidarity from UMWA locals and retirees around the country, as well as from many other unions who have sent aid and contributions.
The union had faced a serious challenge in July when, at the urging of the company, the National Labor Relations Board levied a $13.3 million fine against it, saying the union had to pay for losses incurred by the company in the strike. This was a threat to the basic right to strike, and the UMWA refused to pay it. But in September, the NLRB slashed the fine to $435,000 plus interest. “We are ready to pay that amount, put this behind us and negotiate a fair and reasonable contract with Warrior Met Coal. Let’s get this done,” said Roberts.
The union also says a condition of reaching a settlement is protecting the jobs of 40 strikers the mine bosses say they will refuse to allow to return to work. Antwon Mcghee is one of those targeted.
Warrior Met was formed in 2016 by the biggest creditors of the mines’ previous owner, Jim Walter Resources. The new bosses forced major concessions in wages, benefits, and working conditions on the union, saying that was the price miners had to pay to keep the mines running. They promised miners the cuts would be restored later when profits returned. The union estimates this cost workers $1.1 billion over the next five years. But in 2021, the company offered union members a measly $1.50 an hour raise over the next five years, an offer 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.
The union has been organizing solidarity rallies since shortly after the strike started. Now scheduled for every other week, the next rally will be held Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. at Local 2397’s union hall.
Build solidarity with the UMWA strikers! Come to the Dec. 7 rally! Send checks made out to UMWA 2021 Strike Fund to UMWA Strike Fund, P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026. Send messages of support to UMWA District 20 at 21922 Hwy. 216, McCalla, AL 35111. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.