Alabama UMWA miners return to Warrior Met jobs, talks to resume
UMWA miners are back to work and talking after 23 months of being forced out on strike. | United Mine Workers/Twitter

BROOKWOOD, Ala.—Twenty-three months and a day after Alabama’s Warrior Met coal company forced its 1,100 United Mine Workers to strike, the remaining 800 walked back onto their jobs on March 2, as UMWA and the firm prepared to resume talks on a new contract.

The breakthrough came when UMWA President Cecil Roberts offered on Feb. 16 an “unconditional return to work” by the miners. Warrior Met accepted.

The union declared workers were in an unfair labor practices strike after the firm forced them out on April 1, 2021. Warrior Met declared it an economic strike and hired “replacements,” paying them substantially more than it offered the Mine Workers beforehand. Warrior Met did not disclose any plans for the replacements, many of them from outside Alabama.

But it did say it reached out to UMWA “so we can begin the process for a safe and orderly return to work by those employees who have been on strike and have expressed a desire to return to work.” Each returning worker would be expected to take a physical, and undergo regulatory and safety training.

The strike drew national attention for several reasons. Politicians, union leaders, and celebrities backed the miners. So did the late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Roberts’ predecessor as UMWA president. Trumka spoke to the miners on a Sunday, interrupting his Alabama vacation. The next morning, a Monday, Trumka died.

And the Mine Workers took their campaign to get the company to bargain with its financial backers, big hedge funds, and Wall Street financiers. It made the point that they should order Warrior Met to share its current profits with its workers, who took large cuts in pay and hikes in health insurance payments several years before to save Warrior Met—and their jobs—from the impact of its bankruptcy under a prior owner.

“We are entering a new phase of our efforts to win our members and their families the fair and decent contract they need and deserve,” Roberts said on March 1. “We have been locked into this struggle for 23 months now, and nothing has materially changed. The two sides have essentially fought each other to a draw thus far, despite the company’s unlawful bargaining posture the entire time.

“The status quo is not good for our members and their families,” he continued. “The company continues to pay the temporary replacement workers in its mines 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.”

And by employing less-efficient replacements, Warrior Met hurt its own shareholders, too. Quoting company reports, Roberts said Warrior Met “lost nearly a billion dollars in unrealized revenue over the last 23 months.” Warrior Met, which turned a profit last year due to rising prices for its metallurgical coal, used in steelmaking, did not comment.

The unconditional offer to return to work and its acceptance pave the way for talks to restart. Federal labor law mandates any company respond to such offers, with restarts implied if firms accept.

“We have long said that we are ready to get in the same room with Warrior Met leadership and stay there until we have an agreement,” Roberts said. “So far the company has not been willing to do that.

“I sincerely hope Warrior Met leadership will accept this offer, get our members back to work, engage in good faith bargaining, and finally sit down face-to-face with us to resolve this dispute for the betterment of all concerned.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.