FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 31, 2022
One Year Later and UMWA Workers are Still Fighting for The Dignity They Deserve
[TRIANGLE, VA] Commenting on tomorrow’s one-year anniversary of the beginning of the strike at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today:
“As a result of some poor decisions by upper management to purchase unprofitable foreign coal operations and a weak market for metallurgical coal, Walter Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015. American bankruptcy laws are written to allow companies to shed obligations to workers, vendors, the government, and everyone else. This bankruptcy followed that pattern at first. And then it got worse.
“Private equity came into the picture. At the demand of Apollo, Blackstone, KKR, and others operating as “Coal Acquisitions,” Walter Energy filed motions to terminate the UMWA’s collective bargaining agreement and asked that the mines be sold “free and clear.” The bankruptcy judge also terminated any obligation the company had to pay for retiree health care and pensions, putting Alabama retirees’ lives at risk.
“The new company that emerged from bankruptcy as Warrior Met Coal was not required to hire any of the current workforce. Apollo and its private equity partners finally did agree to bring the workforce back, but they forced the workers to accept a contract worse than any other union coal mine in the nation.
“The workers gave up more than $1.1 billion in order to pull the company out of debt. It was reasonable to assume that once the company became profitable, a fair and decent contract would be negotiated in 2021. But the corporate team Apollo left in place – the same team that drove the company into bankruptcy in the first place – appears to have no intention of doing that.
“Which brings us to today. Coal prices have skyrocketed, coal companies across the nation are getting record prices for their coal, yet Warrior Met has already lost more than a billion dollars in potential coal sales over the last year because it has refused to settle this. The company brought in high-priced, anti-labor law firms like Akin Gump to sit at the bargaining table instead of bringing back the skilled workforce that could increase sales by as much as a billion dollars a year at current prices.
“This is what happens when Wall Street comes to town. I am so sick of dealing with out-of-state lawyers who could care less about Alabama families and Alabama values. These workers have lived the last six years with abusive management, working six and sometimes seven days a week and little or no time for their families.
“Management is setting up the company to fail. Alabama workers are not going to work long for a coal company that pays less, offers fewer benefits, less vacation time, and forces miners to work more hours than the mines right down the road.
“Why would anyone want to work for Warrior Met? Since the beginning of the strike safety violations have skyrocketed and turnover rates are substantially increasing. They are spending money trying to recruit unskilled workers from West Virginia and Kentucky to work in these mines because no self-respecting Alabama miner would agree to work in these conditions.
“I have been at this a long time. I have negotiated contracts with just about every coal company that has been around the last 30 years, including contracts with difficult operators like Don Blankenship and Bob Murray. I remain prepared to do that at Warrior Met. But the company refuses to make any substantial changes to their offer which was rejected 95 percent to 5 percent last April.
“It’s time for the company to put aside the New York lawyers whose job it is to avoid reaching an agreement. It is time for the people who matter to come to the table and sit down for as long as it takes to resolve this. Stop holding these workers, their families, and their communities hostage. Let’s get a contract done here.”