Coal mine workers in Alabama strike over failed contract talks

More than 1,100 mine workers at Warrior Met Coal have gone on strike over the company’s failure to reach a consensus with the workers over the new contracts that went into effect on April 1.

April 03, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Photo: Warrior Met Coal

More than 1,100 mine workers in the State of Alabama went on strike after failed negotiations with their employer, Warrior Met Coal. The strike which began late in the night of Thursday, April 1, came on the day that new and contentious work contracts imposed by the company came into effect. The strike is organized by the members of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and will affect operations in two mines operated by the company, along with one preparation plant and the Central Shop in Tuscaloosa County.

The strike was announced by the UMWA on March 31, Wednesday, after negotiations over the new contracts yielded no results, and the company was determined to implement its proposed contracts by April 1. Warrior Met Coal specializes in non-thermal metallurgical coal mining for steel production in North America and Europe.

According to the union, the company has refused to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the workers five years ago, when it was facing bankruptcy and facing closure. UMWA president Cecil Roberts asserted, in a statement released by the union announcing the strike, that the miners “are the reason Warrior Met exists today.”

“They made the sacrifices to bring this company out of the bankruptcy of Walter Energy in 2016,” Roberts said. The company has reported to have not only bounced back from bankruptcy but also began making profits in the coming years. The company has defended the new contracts as result of uncertainties in metallurgical markets and the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic, which was also the reason it gave to delay release of its latest financial records for the past year.

The union refused to accept this reasoning. According to Roberts, “Warrior Met has capitalized on their hard work, earning tens of millions in profits for their Wall Street owners. They have even rewarded upper management with bonuses of up to $35,000 in recent weeks.”

“But today, instead of rewarding the sacrifices and work of the miners, Warrior Met is seeking even further sacrifices from them, while demonstrating perhaps some of the worst labor-management relations we’ve seen in this industry since the days of the company town and company store,” Roberts added.

The union has also filed an unfair labor practices lawsuit at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), over the company’s treatment of the workers during the span of the negotiations. The strike will continue until the continuing negotiations yield results. The strike comes at a time when labor movements across the country have intensified the struggles to secure fair contracts, wage hikes and union rights.