Warrior Met miner Emanuel Barnfield demonstrated outside BlackRock in Manhattan Wednesday.
Dave Jamieson, HuffPost

Michael Argo spent thirteen years underground in a Brookwood coal mine, Alabama just outside of Tuscaloosa. It’s the same mine his father worked at, raising Argo on good union wages and excellent health care coverage. When Argo followed in his father’s footsteps, he believed the job would get better with time and seniority. However, the job has only gotten worse.

“I’m working more than I ever have, and I’m making less money,” said Argo, a 33-year-old longwall miner who logs 10- to 12-hour days, 20 miles deep in the mine.

Argo estimated that Argo now makes $20,000 less annually than six years ago. This was before Warrior Met Coal emerged from bankruptcy and the mine became profitable.

Argo and others from the 2016 Argo United Mine Workers of AmericaWarrior Met agreed to several concessions in order to improve its financial position. The premium paid for Sundays was eliminated, as well as long-shifts. Their annual paid holidays went down from eleven to just three, including Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The employees also consented that they would pay significantly more for health care than in previous contracts.

Argo said and others that the sacrifices made were temporary. They claimed that the company insisted on lower standards for a five-year contract. This led to a strike of 1,100 workers which began April 1. It has been ongoing for four months. The massive strike is the result of an industrial dispute that dates back to a more stable coal industry.

Warrior Met is one of the rare large-scale strikes in the United States. This goes for all industries, not just the coal industry. In the last twelve months, there were only eight stoppages of operations involving more than 1,000 workers. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics This may be because the coronavirus pandemic caused this figure to be unusually low. 2019 saw the following: 25 work stoppagesThat is the size of most strikes. Strikes usually last for a few days or weeks and not months.

“I’m working more than I ever have, and I’m making less money.”

– Michael Argo, Warrior Met miner

A large number of striking workers travelled from Alabama to New York this week in order to rally outside BlackRock’s offices. It was an attempt to pressure Warrior Met’s largest shareholder into supporting a contract proposal that would put an end to the strike and get the miners back to work. BlackRock has said it believes in “sustainable investing,” which the firm defines as “investing in progress.”

UMWA President Cecil Roberts said in a statement that the miners were “simply following the money, and demanding that those who created that wealth, the miners, get their fair share of it.”

Warrior Met is a producer of coking and metallurgical coal, which can be used to produce steel. The company calls itself “the leading producer and exporter of metallurgical coal for the global steel industry,” sending coal to Europe, Asia and South America.

Among those who made the journey north was Argo’s friend Chris Burke, who’d never been to New York City before. Four years ago, he started at Warrior Met. He said the contract that came out of bankruptcy is “one of the worst ones around” for mines in the area. The company’s new offer was so subpar, he said, that the decision to strike was an easy one.

“They’re taking advantage of us,” said Burke, who has two kids. “It’s the same coal as the neighbor mine up the road. … It’s all met coal. But it’s the lowest paid. We just want to make it equal.”

A Warrior Met spokesperson said the company was “committed” to reaching a deal with the union and had offered some increases in pay and benefits during negotiations.

“We have and will continue to work with the UMWA to reach a fair and reasonable contract that provides our employees with a competitive package while protecting jobs and ensuring the longevity of the Company,” the spokesperson said in an email to HuffPost.

Phil Smith, spokesperson for the union said that the company and the union were returning to the bargaining table this Wednesday, but they remain far apart on many of the most important issues. The April contract offer was rejected by union members in overwhelming numbers.

Union members claimed that they once paid very little for their health coverage. But, after bankruptcy, they had to start paying a $1500 deductible as well as a 20% copay. Although the low insurance cost they had under their previous contracts might seem generous for them, it is not true for unionized coal miners. Safety hazards are a major concern in mining. long-term health risksMembers have used a lot of their power to negotiate low healthcare costs.

Workers claim that losing premium pay is a more severe financial loss. Smith stated that workers are still entitled to time-and-a half pay for 40 hours worked per week. However, the additional pay was only available after they had been working eight hours per day in the previous contract.

Miners and their supporters marched in Manhattan this week.
This week, miners and their supporter marched through Manhattan.
Dave Jamieson, HuffPost

Emanuel Barnfield is a thirteen-year mine veteran and father to three. He said that many miners used to make more than $100,000 per year by working hard. He said that they still have to work long hours, but their earnings are now $20,000 and $30,000 lower. While the pay might still seem high to outsiders, Barnfield said the job takes a harsh toll on one’s body and family life.

“We’re nothing but money to these guys,” he said of the company and its shareholders.

Warrior Met said its offer to the union includes a 10% to 12% pay bump for workers, along with additional time off and a “relaxed” attendance policy, although the company did not provide details. Several workers in interviews criticized what they called the company’s “four strikes” attendance policy that could lead to termination, saying it didn’t allow leniency for absences due to health problems or emergencies.

Tefere Gebre is the executive vice president for the AFL-CIO labor union federation. He said that he views the Warrior Met strike in continuation of the 2018 walkouts with West Virginia teachers.

“Billionaires are shooting themselves into space while mine workers are saying, ‘How am I going to feed my kids?’” Gebre said. “These are people who can least afford to be out on strike for more than 100 days.”

Two separate mines are affected, as well as Warrior Met’s preparation and mechanical shops. According to the union, approximately 60 bargaining members have crossed the picket lines in order to continue work. The company also has brought in contractors from outside as replacements.

“We’re nothing but money to these guys.”

Emanuel Barnfield is a Warrior Met miner

Picket lines were maintained by the union at various sites that are not on mine property. Warrior Met obtained an injunctionLimiting the number of strikers or supporters allowed at any one site is important so workers have access to company property. Picket lines are often dangerous, tense, and even deadly. The union said it’s counted at least four instances in which drivers heading onto mine property struck picketers. It is. released video showing two of those incidents, calling them “company-inspired violence.”

Amy Pilkteron (husband Greg) works at the mine. On July 8, she was hit and spun by a vehicle while walking on a picketline, leaving her right hand bruised. She said her back is still “out of whack” and she’s been visiting a chiropractor.

“I’m just thankful I wasn’t a couple of steps back, because then he would have hit me full force,” Pilkteron said.

The company spokesperson said that ​​“Warrior Met Coal does not condone any acts of violence.”

Strikers have been receiving $700 every two weeks from the union’s strike fund. Many people have had to rely on the union’s strike fund for income due to the drop in their income. auxiliary powered by miners’ wives. They’ve been bringing in donations and putting together free grocery bags and back-to-school supplies for families.

Haeden Wright, a schoolteacher serving as the auxiliary’s president, said it takes an enormous amount of effort to sustain a strike for four months. Braxton Wright, her husband and Warrior Met miner father, worked in the mine’s previous owners.

“What people don’t understand is to have a successful strike that can last this long, it’s a whole lot more than just picket lines,” Wright said. “You have to have people who support you. It’s mutual aid.”

A lot of strikers have taken on second jobs to support their families during the strike, working on days they aren’t picketing. Barnfield was a driver for one of his friend’s tow trucks to make ends work. Argo was a side hustler who cut grass.

Burke stated that he thought the strike would only last for a few months and not for as long. Still, he hasn’t taken on any new work.

“I live on the picket line,” he said.

Source: HuffPost.com.

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