Eleven hundred coal miners have been on strike in Brookwood, Alabama since April 1 after the company engaged in a series of unfair labor practices and then made an “insulting” offer on wage negotiations.
According to Jacob Morrison, Secretary-Treasurer of the North Alabama Area Labor Council, the workers made a major sacrifice for the company, Warrior Met Coal, in 2015 when they accepted a contract with major concessions to help it regain solvency after it emerged from bankruptcy. These concessions included a $6-an-hour pay cut, frequent seven-day workweeks, a loss of their guaranteed paid lunch break, and a loss of overtime compensation. Since then, the company has been bought out by some 29 or 30 hedge funds and Warrior Met has prospered with its CEO now raking in a record breaking compensation of $4 million a year.
“They told us, since we bailed them out, they would take care of us,” said Brian Kelly, president of United Mine Workers of America Local 2245, one of the workers on strike.
But when it came to the company actually taking care of them, particularly after the sacrifices they had made, the company said “no way.” First, they refused to negotiate in good faith, declining to make any concrete proposals on a new contract, an unfair labor practice. The miners responded by going out on strike which finally forced Warrior Met to the bargaining table where they came up with the “insulting” wage offer of a 1.50-an-hour raise over five years. By an overwhelming vote, the miners rejected the offer and voted to continue the strike. The company was “making us work seven days a week, up to 16 hours,” declared Kelly, a miner at Brookwood for 25 years. “Now we’re forced to work every holiday except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas. ”This company has prospered,” said another union member, Dedrick Gardner, a 13 year veteran at Warrior Met.. “We worked a whole year during the pandemic. The mine didn’t shut.”
Since the strike began, the company has engaged in typical union-busting activities like bringing in scabs, using the courts to limiting the union’s ability to picket by allowing only six pickets at each entrance, and using police to intimidate strikers who do picket.
On June 22, the issue was brought to New York when a number of miners came up to picket at the offices of three of the hedge funds who own large shares of the company, Black Rock Fund Advisors, State Street Global Advisors, and Renaissance Technologies. They were joined by supporters from several other unions. “These hedge funds are among several entities that invested in Warrior Met five years ago when the company emerged from bankruptcy,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said in a statement. “But they insisted on dramatic sacrifices from the workers, to the tune of $1.1 billion. The company has enjoyed revenues amounting to another $3.4 billion since then, much of which flowed into these funds’ accounts. It’s time to share that wealth with the people who created it — the workers.”
But, says Smith, “They really haven’t moved very far from the contract that got voted down, I don’t think they got the message.”