Members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), have now been 500 days on strike against Warrior Met Coal, (previously known as Walter Energy.)
The miners went on strike in April of 2021 over a host of grievances: little-to-no raises, long working hours, cuts to healthcare, and cuts to their retirements. They accepted many of these concessions in 2016 to bring the company out of bankruptcy, at a cost to the miners of around $1 billion over the term of the contract, according to the union.
The workers simply wanted something approximating a restoration of the pre-bankruptcy status quo. Warrior Met instigated the strike by refusing these modest demands.
Republican politicians have responded to this long-term work action with characteristic indifference, or overt support for the company. On the state level, Republicans are openly siding against the workers. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has mobilized state troopers to escort scabs crossing the picket line. On October 27, 2021, a Republican Tuscaloosa County Judge issued an injunction telling Alabama coal miners that they are not allowed to protest their employer. For several months, striking workers were limited in the number of picketers they could have on the line, and for a few months they could have none at all. The lack of support from Republicans is both typical, shameful but to be expected.
But the strike has also been largely met with silence from Democrats, including at the federal level, despite the Biden administration’s claim to stand with unions. While local rank-and-file Democrats have helped by donating to the strike fund and collecting donations, Democratic Party office holders have been totally absent. Some have spoken at rallies, yet only oneelected Alabama Democrat, Tuscaloosa State Representative Chris England, has been to a picket line, and asked how he can help.
Lacking political power in the state, the federal leaders of the party could be doing far more. Yet, the White House and the Labor Department have both been mostly silent. Why hasn’t Labor Secretary Marty Walsh been loudly commenting on the Warrior Met strike?
The workers have been complaining that none of the politicians care. What these workers are left with in terms of material support from political leaders is virtually nothing, and at a time when the need could not be more urgent. The company is trying to shake the union down for millions in reimbursements for “unlawful strike activity,” including lost production. And with the skyrocketing price of steel, even operating the mines at a lower capacity has allowed the company to turn a profit (even though it is missing out on $1 billion dollars in potential revenue, according to UMWA).
It is unconscionable that the “most pro-union president in history” and nearly the entire political party that he leads has allowed this strike to go on this long without strong support.