On Wednesday morning, coal miners from Alabama, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio picketed the New York City office of BlackRock. The asset manager is the biggest shareholder in Warrior Met Coal, the Alabama mining company that 1,100 members of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) have been on strike against since April 1. Miners at Warrior Met’s two coal mines and related facilities are demanding a better contract, including higher pay, better health insurance, more time off, and an end to unfair labor practices.
This is the miners’ first contract negotiation since 2016 when Warrior Met Coal bought out Walter Energy, the previous owner which declared bankruptcy. As a result, workers were pushed to accept significant cuts to their wages, benefits, and pensions or risk losing their jobs. However, despite making millions of dollars over the past five years and turning a profit in 2019 after workers helped bring the company out of bankruptcy, Warrior Met is nowhere near reinstating the wages and benefits that were cut in 2016. The miners have described the tentative agreement presented by the company and the union this year as a “slap in the face.”
Rank-and-file miners at the Warrior Met mines have been bravely holding a historic strike for the past four months. Meanwhile, in their quest to get back to making record-breaking profits off the miners’ hard labor, the company is doing everything it can to break the strike. It has bussed in hundreds of scabs to keep the mines running, hired private security to “patrol” the picket line, and were granted an injunction to prevent more than six workers at a time from holding the line. Three people at the picket were even struck by vehicles, reportedly by Warrior Met employees.
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Five buses carrying over 100 UMWA miners from states including Alabama, West Virginia, and Ohio gathered in front of BlackRock’s Manhattan office at around 9 a.m. on Wednesday carrying UMWA signs that read “We Are One” and “No Contact, No Coal.” Many retired miners were present, as well as UMWA members from other states. Union leaders spoke out against the poor working conditions and insufficient contract that had been presented to the miners, but no rank-and-file workers were given the microphone.
But the miners themselves had plenty to say about what they are demanding and what this strike has meant for them and their families. In interviews, workers told us about the gruelling working conditions at the Alabama mines where they spend at least 12 hours a day 2,000 feet underground, with few days off from the backbreaking labor. The miners acknowledge that it was their hard labor — during a pandemic — that helped bring the mines back from bankruptcy, and yet they are not receiving the wages and benefits that they are asking for. “We’re paying for their beach trips, paid for them many times over. And while we’re sitting out here, fighting just to try to survive until we can get back to work, they’re living it up,” said miner Josh Krim from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who has been on strike for four months. “[BlackRock] needs to step up… They could care less what happens.” BlackRock has so far declined to comment on Warrior Met Coal or the strike.
Members of other unions, including CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress (PSC); the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU); and the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) were also present at Wednesday’s picket to show their solidarity with the striking miners. On the picket line, the miners and their supporters chanted, “No contract, no coal,” “Warrior Met Coal ain’t got no soul,” and “BlackRock Sucks.”
The historic strike of these 1,000 miners and their community, one of the longest in the UMWA’s history, is an important example of workers recognizing that they are the ones who put their lives on the line each day to keep society running — even during a pandemic — while the bosses sit back and collect hefty profits. These rank-and-file workers, the ones going deep underground each day to keep coal running, should be the ones to determine the conditions under which they work. Solidarity to the striking miners!