McCALLA, Ala. — “We decided to take up the cause of the striking miners because this is a union issue for the whole nation,” Mark Bass, president of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1410 in Mobile, Alabama, told the Militant in an Aug. 20 phone interview. Bass helped organize ILA members to join in the Aug. 4 rally in Brookwood, Alabama, to back the strike by 1,100 United Mine Workers of America members against Warrior Met Coal there.
“If we allow Warrior Met to get away with their union-busting tactics, it will affect unions and working people everywhere,” Bass said, adding that ILA Local 1410 is currently involved in its own contract negotiations at the Port of Mobile. “We understand the need for solidarity.”
Some 60 ILA members from Charleston, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Mobile were among the more than 1,500 striking miners, family members, UMWA retirees and other unionists who gathered together for the strongest show of labor solidarity for the strike since miners walked off the job April 1.
ILA members were warmly welcomed at the rally and their presence had a big impact. “We’re committed to winning this strike,” ILA Local 1422 President Ken Riley from Charleston told rally participants from the stage.
The ILA represents some 65,000 longshoremen on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Great Lakes, major U.S. rivers, Puerto Rico and eastern Canada.
The ILA locals pledged to broaden support for the strike, including getting the word out to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on the West Coast.
UMWA members in Brookwood are staffing round-the-clock picket lines at the two Warrior Met mines, No. 4 and No. 7, as well as a preparation plant, central shops and at several railroad crossings. The union sponsors weekly solidarity rallies every Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at nearby Tannehill State Park, often featuring speakers from other unions.
Wives of striking miners have organized a UMWA Auxiliary that has raised thousands of dollars to help provide food, diapers, school supplies and other necessities to strikers’ families. Strikers get weekly benefits from the union’s strike fund. Its long and growing list of contributing unions, community organizations, and individual donations reflects increasing support for the strike.
Union members are fighting to reverse the conditions they’ve been working under since 2016, when a concession contract was forced on the union after the mines’ previous owner, Jim Walter Resources, went bankrupt the year before. Warrior Met — set up by BlackRock and others of Jim Walter’s biggest creditors — threatened to shut the mines unless the union agreed to cuts in pay, increased costs for health care, loss of overtime pay after eight hours, loss of extra overtime pay for Sundays and holidays, loss of 10 annual paid holidays, an attendance policy of “four strikes and you’re out,” no cap on forced overtime and other concessions.
The union calculates that these concessions cost workers $1.1 billion that went instead into the new owners’ coffers over the last five years.
On Aug. 23, the union announced National Labor Relations Board Region 10 Director Lisa Henderson has found merit in unfair labor practice charges the UMWA filed against Warrior Met for “bad faith bargaining” and failure to provide the union with required information. The NLRB had notified Warrior Met Aug. 13 that it should cease and desist.
The Brookwood mines produce metallurgical coal, in high demand by the global steel industry. Warrior Met, one of the top U.S. producers of “met” coal, has reported significant profits in 2021, after a drop in income in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.
To meet some orders and to undermine the strike, the company has been mining coal at the No. 7 mine with scab labor since the strike began. Some scabs cross the picket lines in their own vehicles; others are brought in on buses with darkened windows. There have been several incidents of scabs hitting union pickets with their vehicles.
Support and solidarity are needed. Help to spread the word about the strike! Send contributions, made out to UMWA 2021 Strike Fund, to UMWA Strike Fund, P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026. Messages of support can also be sent to District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216 (Miners’ Memorial Parkway), McCalla, AL 35111; Email: [email protected].