Newswire: Alabama coal miners have been striking for better wages since April. Why is nobody talking about it?

By: Aysha Qamar for Daily Kos

While Alabama as a state prides itself in being a “right to work”  state that doesn’t mean that all work receives fair pay. It’s been over two months since thousands of coal miners in the state went on strike, but coverage on the issue remains low. About 1,1000 workers at Warrior Met Coal went on strike on April 1 after contract talks to increase pay, provide health benefits, and better working conditions failed. According to The Nation, multiple employees felt as though they deserved more after what they call saving the company for years.  The strike is significant because it serves as the first one to occur in the state’s coal mining industry in four decades. Leading and supporting the strike is the United Mine Workers of America (UNWA). Around since 1890, the Alabama chapter remains one of the most racially integrated UMWA chapters in the country: at least 20% of its workers are Black. “We want our pay, and we want fair treatment. We want good insurance. But more than anything, we want to spend more breaths of that God-given air with our family,” United Mine Workers Treasurer Levi Allen told NPR. According to The Guardian, after the first owner of No 7 mine in Brookwood, Walter Energy, filed for bankruptcy in 2016, miners agreed to cut their wages and benefits to keep the mines open. Then in 2016, when Warrior Met Coal took over the coal company they experienced a $6-an-hour pay cut and were told that benefits would be restored after five years. Additionally, some workers lost the ability to take paid holidays and earn overtime pay.  Despite this promise, nothing has come of negotiations with strikers now struggling to afford basic necessities like food and housing. According to The Guardian, they are only seeking payment and benefits similar to other local unionized mines, however, their struggle has received little to no attention.  New policies are also being negotiated. At the current time policies have restricted work absences making it difficult for individuals who become unexpectedly sick or have emergencies. With the extensive labor and risk that mining requires, the lack of benefits has impacted workers’ bodies heavily, many of whom are parents. But the issue goes beyond fighting for better pay and working conditions. Miners on strike have said they are being targeted on the picket line, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. In one documented incident posted to YouTube, a red truck can be seen hitting one picketer, while another truck drives through a line with one protesting miner barely getting out of its path.  Multiple similar incidents have occurred in the last few days according to Larry P. Spencer, United Mine Workers of America International vice president for District 20. “It looks like there are guys coming off the road pretty fast,” Spencer said. “Our people don’t have any time to get out of the way.” Union members believe the attacks are being carried out by either “replacement workers” or people directly working with Warrior Met Coal. As attacks continue members of the mining community are  “concerned about their families and potential of violence against them if they come to the picket line,” UMWA International President Cecil Roberts said. Roberts added that those protesting have been admitted to the hospital and many are now in casts. “We have been to court on multiple occasions regarding what we can and cannot do on the picket lines and our members respect the guidance of the court,” Roberts said. “Warrior Met seems to believe that it is all right to strike people with cars as they engage in legal, protected activity. This is a dangerous course of action that can swiftly lead to events spiraling out of control. That is the last thing anyone should want.” But according to AL.com, Warrior Met Coal hasn’t just been abusing its workers—the company allegedly turned a healthy local creek completely black with unknown particles, the outlet reported.  Operations within the company have continued despite the strike. Not only has the issue received little to no press, but while Republican officials have always said they support the community, they have failed to speak up about the issue. But again, this is also no surprise as Republican officials across the country have often sided with individuals who ram into protestors and approach them with other violence.  Despite the ongoing violence they are facing and the concerns for safety, miners have noted that they will not give up.  “I’m not going to give up, because that’s what they want,” Greg Pilkington, a victim of an attack at the picket line and six-year veteran of the mines said according to his wife, Amy. Amy spoke on behalf of Greg who has been left with a torn meniscus. Previous to this Greg was also badly injured in an accident underground which led him to sue Warrior Met Coal, The Nation reported. “That’s part of their agenda, to scare us off or physically and mentally make us to where we don’t want to fight anymore. [And] I grew up in the union,”  Gary Pilkington continued. “I know my dad and them picketed back in the ’80s, and it was a whole lot worse than what is going on now. I’m not going to, but if I was to give up this spot, my dad would probably come back to haunt me.” In addition to the risk of safety, miners striking also face another obstacle, keeping a roof over their heads. However, unlike some other unions, the UMWA has an active strike fund that allows members to draw biweekly payments of $650 as long as they spend 16 hours on the picket line a week. The payment is not much but is something for those who are risking their lives in hopes of a better future.  “In this day and time you have to have a union to support you,” Amy Pilkington, who is herself a member of the Alabama Education Association, explained. “Companies are so greedy that they’re going to take care of their selves and they don’t give a flying fart about their employees, as long as they’re getting their money. That’s all they care about. And it’s not right to the worker. We deserve just as much as these people that are sitting in offices. Negotiations have been ongoing for a few months now. While the strike was not expected to last this long, the unfair labor practices in place at Warrior Met Coal have kept the protesting miners going strong. Before strikes began in April, miners rejected the company’s offer to increase pay by 10%; Since then the company has refused to engage in “meaningful negotiations,” Roberts said.  As Warrior Met Coal and the United Mine Workers continue negotiations the union does not see the strike ending anytime soon, NPR reported

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