Militant Journalism

1,100 coal miners in northern Alabama go on strike

On April 1, 1,100 coal miners working for Warrior Met Coal, Inc. in Brookwood, Alabama, went on strike. This occurred after a breakdown in negotiations between the United Mine Workers of America and Warrior Met over unfair labor practices. 

In the announcement of the strike, UMWA International President Cecil Roberts stated that after the bankruptcy of Walter Energy in 2016, “These productive, professional miners at Warrior Met mined the coal that meant the company could become successful again.” While Warrior Met “rewarded upper management with bonuses of up to $35,000,” they sought “further sacrifices” from workers, he said. On display were “perhaps some of the worst labor-management relations we’ve seen in this industry since the days of the company town and company store.”

Workers at the site told Liberation News that since the bankruptcy of Walter Energy in 2016, Warrior Met has tried to cut the pay of miners while company bosses continue to make seven-figure salaries. Warrior Met stated publicly they intend to continue supplying coal despite the strike and are “disappointed” that UMWA would take the “extreme step to declare a strike while we continue to negotiate in good faith.” At the picket line on April 6 were scabs sent on buses by Warrior Met, as well as local and state police and private security.

Striking workers told Liberation News about the many abuses they have faced the company has refused to address. Miners said they work six days a week for eight to 12 hours a day, are given no holidays besides Christmas Eve and Christmas, and must work three months straight with no days off before allowed even a single vacation day. They added that this intense work schedule gives them no time to spend with their families.

One worker said the mines have incredible amounts of methane gas. “Without the miners, they ain’t got nothing,” another striker told Liberation News. Miners feel that Warrior Met has ignored their sacrifices and refused to deal fairly while they have enriched Wall Street stockholders and company bosses.

There was clear support for UMWA among the miners and the community in Brookwood. Members of the union refuse to shop at stores that do not have a marking of support for UMWA. Signs in solidarity with the strikers are up all over the town. One worker said: UMWA “helped me any time I needed it” and when members “ever see one brother getting treated poorly, we gotta have their back too. In the union, you never turn your back on your brothers and sisters.”

Workers at the picket line also said they stood in solidarity with workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, who currently await the results of a vote to unionize. A worker expressed that the Amazon struggle was part of their own, saying “if Amazon can do it, so can we.” Miners said they appreciated Amazon workers who had come to support their strike and show solidarity.

On April 6, UMWA officials and Warrior Met management reached a possible agreement to end the strike. The details will not be known publicly until union members vote April 9. If the workers vote against the agreement, the strike will continue until Warrior Met is willing to meet the workers’ demands. Warrior Met’s history of unfair dealing makes agreeing to any deal a difficult proposition for many workers.

The profits made by Warrior Met are a result of the work of the Brookwood miners. The miners are showing they are unwilling to let the company abuse them and ignore their demands. Workers, whether in Bessemer or Brookwood, have power when they are organized and support each other. As the statement announcing the Warrior Met strike says:

“Nobody in their right mind ever wants to strike, but sometimes the company’s actions and disregard for the welfare of workers and their families forces a strike. This is one of those times. Our members at Warrior Met should know that they have the full backing of the entire International Union and working families across Alabama, the United States and the world. Despite Warrior Met’s apparent appetite for this conflict, we will prevail.”

To find ways to support workers in the UMWA, visit their website.

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