UMWA announces striking Warrior Met miners ready to return to work

By Susan Lamont
March 6, 2023
Striking United Mine Workers members picket entrance to Warrior Met mine in Brookwood, Alabama, June 15, 2021.
UMWAStriking United Mine Workers members picket entrance to Warrior Met mine in Brookwood, Alabama, June 15, 2021.

ATLANTA — Hundreds of coal miners who have been on strike at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama, for the past 22 months and their families heard from United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts Feb. 15 that the union had made the company an “unconditional offer to return to work.”

They met at a hotel in Hoover, a Birmingham suburb, where Roberts said he was sending a letter to Warrior Met Coal CEO Walter Scheller announcing that the unionists were preparing to return to work March 2.

“We’re just going to wait and see how the company responds,” Otis Sims told the Militant by phone Feb. 16. In the meantime, he said, “I’ll be doing my picket duty.” Sims has worked at the no. 4 mine for 43 years and was a longwall operator when the strike began April 1, 2021.

The union is calling on the company to allow its members to return to work while engaging in negotiations to reach a contract settlement. It says Warrior Met has been paying scabs up to $2,000 a month more than what they offered UMWA members in 2021.

“We are entering a new phase of our efforts to win our members and their families the fair and decent contract they need and deserve,” Roberts said in a Feb. 16 statement. “The status quo is not good for our members.”

After the company replied to the union’s offer, Roberts wrote again Feb. 20, “asking several questions that we need to know the answers to before we can discuss the next steps with our members,” a statement on the union website said.

Miners win solidarity

Since the strike started, miners have held solidarity rallies, including two major actions that drew union miners and retirees from around the country, as well as leaders and members of other unions, including the International Longshoremen’s Association, the Bakery Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and many more. The UMWA strike fund, which has helped pay strikers’ weekly benefits, has received contributions from UMWA locals and districts, as well as other unions.

Many strikers have had to get other full-time jobs to support their families. Some are now working at UMWA-organized Oak Grove and Shoal Creek mines, also in Alabama.

Warrior Met Coal was set up by the biggest outstanding creditors when the previous owner, Jim Walter Resources, declared bankruptcy in 2015. The new owners told miners they had to accept deep cuts in wages, benefits and working conditions or the mines would be shuttered. Gains the miners had fought for over decades were ripped up, with a company promise to restore them when it started making a profit.

But when the contract expired in 2021, bosses reneged, offering the miners virtually no improvements. UMWA members overwhelmingly rejected the contract and vowed to stay out until they won a better agreement.

Warrior Met then restarted production using scab labor. Over time, some union members crossed the picket line. The UMWA auxiliary, organized by strikers’ spouses, has been helping to keep picket lines up and provided food, household supplies and other necessities so strikers’ families can get by.

In the face of court injunctions that severely restricted union picketing and an unrelenting company campaign to violence-bait the union, the strikers continued their fight. Last July, at the company’s request, the National Labor Relations Board imposed a $13.3 million fine on the union, saying it had to pay for the mine owners’ losses. The union refused to pay and the fine was later reduced to $435,000 plus interest.

Earlier this month, a group of some 150 ministers, rabbis and religious leaders from around the country signed a statement calling on Warrior Met to end the strike immediately “in an equitable and just manner.”