For nearly two years, about 1100 Warrior Met Coal miners in two mines in Brookwood, Alabama have been on strike. These workers are represented by the United Mine Workers Association(UMWA); Number 4 mine is represented by Local 2245 and Number 7 mine is represented by Local 2397. On February 16, 2023, UMWA International President Cecil Roberts announced to the workers a plan for an “unconditional offer to return to work” by March 2nd. The decision of the plan was cited on the basis that the striking workers are struggling after 23 months while scabs from Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky were, “[paid] significant wages and bonuses up to $2,000 more per month than it has offered to pay our members at the bargaining table. If it is going to pay that kind of money, we believe it should be going to Alabama miners and their families, not those coming from out-of-state.” The miners after a nearly 2 year struggle are confused and uneasy by the decision despite the union leadership saying it will continue to negotiate with Warrior Met Coal for a better contract.
The feud began in 2015 when the previous company, Walter Energy went bankrupt and laid off most of the miners. Warrior Met Coal, a subsidiary of the Wall Street giant, Blackrock, bought the company and hired back most of the laid off workers. Warrior Met Coal claimed that it could not afford to pay the workers the pay and benefits they were afforded under Walter Energy but promised that after the 5 year contract expired, the company would be in a more financially stable position to increase pay and benefits. Five years later, the company is reporting record profits while offering a contract that does not address their promise in 2015. In April 2021, the workers walked out with a vote to reject the tentative agreement at 1006 to 45.
With the unconditional offer to return to work, the workers would be mandated to take a refreshment course on mine safety physicals to determine eligibility, as well as drug trusts in order for Warrior Met Coal to consider the workers’ suitability. The return to work would require that the workers receive the pay and benefits from the previous contract until a new tentative agreement can be drafted and voted on by members.
On April 13th 2021, UMWA President Cecil Roberts put out a video statement where he ended with “…we don’t strike at the UMWA to lose, we strike at the UMWA to win!” After almost two years of striking and President Roberts calls for an unconditional return to work is in direct contradiction to this statement. If this tactic leads to a return of the pre-2021 status quo, all the effort, pain, loss of pay and benefits, and 2 years of struggle will be for nothing. Not only is this move a stab in the back to the UMWA mineworkers, but Roberts demonstrated to this Wall Street giant that the union under his leadership is weak. UMWA leadership says that they are waging the war on a new front but this move is nothing more than surrender to their enemies. The mine workers who did not decide themselves to return to work are confused. While they still wanted to fight, the union leadership turned over and exposed their belly. If the Warrior Met Coal are to maintain their prestige of strength, the workers will need to remind leadership where the union power comes from: the rank and file workers! Labor Today and Labor United Educational League will continue to stand firmly in solidarity with the workers. An injury to one, is an injury to all!