Source: The Tuscaloosa News
August 5, 2021
They arrived by the busload.
From South Carolina and Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky; from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Virginia, they came to Tuscaloosa County.
Coal miners and coal miner supporters from across the eastern United States descended Wednesday on Brookwood to support the ongoing coal miner strike against Warrior Met Coal Inc., which entered its fifth month on Aug. 1.
“It’s been a long time struggle, so far,” said Cecil Roberts, international president of the United Mine Workers of America.
Since April 1, union coal miners have been in negotiations with the Brookwood-based company for what they call a “reasonable contract” with better pay and benefits.
A tentative agreement was announced less than a week after the strike began, but the union voted that deal down and the strike has been ongoing ever since.
To reinvigorate the effort, the UMWA organized Wednesday’s rally and bused in hundreds of miners from practically every coal-producing state in the nation.
They were joined by others, swelling the crowd to more than 1,000 in Brookwood’s Town Park on Alabama Highway 216, just down from Warrior Met Coal’s central offices.
“This is solidarity,” said UMWA International Secretary-Treasurer Brian Sanson, who came from West Virginia. “They’re here to support their brothers and sisters here on this strike (and) to get this company to start bargaining in a fair and just manner and get these people back to work.”
Sanson is a member of the union’s negotiating team that is trying to reach a consensus with Warrior Met.
So far, the efforts have not been successful, he said, because of the company’s stance.
“I don’t think Warrior Met is bargaining in good faith right now,” Sanson said, repeating an accusation that the union has made from the beginning of negotiations. “There’s a lot of issues – there’s no one key issue – and Warrior Met is just not bargaining in good faith.”
Warrior Met did not respond to a request for comment, but has said from the beginning that its negotiation position is meant to protect itself as well as the long-term employment of its 1,400 or so workers.
“Throughout the negotiations process with the United Mine Workers of America, Warrior Met Coal’s vision has remained on the future,” the company said through a spokesperson, “a future where we provide our employees with a competitive package while protecting jobs and the longevity of the company and its workforce.
“We have always valued and appreciated our employees’ hard work and our priorities remain keeping people employed with long-lasting careers and ensuring Warrior Met Coal remains financially stable in a particularly volatile coal market.”
If that were true, then Wednesday’s rally would’ve been unnecessary, said Larry Spencer, vice president of UMWA’s International District 20.
“Look around, guys. This is what the union’s about,” said Spencer, who also serves as vice-president at large for the Southern District of the Alabama AFL-CIO and vice-president of the West Alabama Labor Council, in addressing the growing crowd.
He said purpose of the gathering, beyond bolstering the protracted strike, was to show Warrior Met Coal that the union would not back down.
“We need to make sure that that company up there knows that we’re going to do this and, if we have to, we’ll be back and we’ll be back and we’ll be back,” Spencer said to rousing applause. “Now, all they’ve got to do is get right. That’s all they’ve got to do. …
“We’re just asking for our fair share, is all we’re asking for. That’s it.”
Warrior Met Coal, which focuses primarily on the mining of nonthermal metallurgical coal for use in the steel production process by manufacturers in Europe, South America and Asia, was created following the 2015 bankruptcy of Jim Walter Resources and its parent company, Walter Energy.
That year, Walter Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, indicating it had around $3 billion in debt with its major holdings in the state being the Jim Walter Resources underground coal mines in Brookwood as well as the rights to unmined coal fields elsewhere in Tuscaloosa and neighboring counties.
Written by: Jason Morton & Gary Crosby Jr.