UMWA Holds Second Rally for Warrior Met Coal Strikers
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) hosted their second Unity Rally at Tannehill State Park for the miners who have been on strike at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood since April 1.
The strike began after the worker's contracts expired and negotiations for a new contract failed.
The meeting's keynote speaker, International UMWA President Cecil Roberts, began his speech by talking about Workers Memorial Day and the dangers of being a coal miner.
"Most of you may not be aware that today is Workers' Memorial Day," said Roberts. "[It] is celebrated by every [American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations] (AFL-CIO) union in the United States of America every April, the 28th. Today, before you get home tonight and put your head on your pillow, another worker somewhere in this country will be killed on the job. Fourteen workers every single day day in the United States, but that's not all. I want you to listen to this number every year; somewhere between 50 and 60,000 workers die from occupational illnesses like black lung, brown lung, white lung, cancer. They're dying because they went to work, and one of the issues that we know presents itself to us at Warrior Met."
Roberts said that Warrior Met Coal "is a dangerous company to work for."
"No one should be working in a coal mine 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week. As we come here today, we know something we work in the most dangerous job on Earth," he said. "We also know that 107,000 coal miners have been killed in this nation's coal mines since the inception of coal mines. We also know this at least 180,000 miners have died from pneumoconiosis. There isn't a person that's here today that doesn't know somebody that was killed in a coal mine."
"Workers Memorial Day should mean more to us than any other union in the United States of America because we have always, always fought to make the coal mines safer in America."
Roberts also acknowledged the hospital workers that have died this year fighting the coronavirus pandemic and thanked them for their service.
Bren Riley, the president of the Alabama AFL-CIO, then took the stage to talk about the support his union received from the UMWA.
"I would like to tell specifically all the miners here we striked against Goodyear in 2006 and probably had 200 in their camouflage shirts come to Gadsden, Alabama," said Riley. "The coal miners in their camouflage was a sight to behold. They had a police escort from here and picked them up in Jefferson County came on to Eutaw County; probably 200 coal miners were on our picket line against Goodyear."
Riley also talked about Warrior Met Coals' decision to bring in scabs, who are contract workers that keep the mine operational when regular workers are on strike.
"Now, what's [really] important, Warrior Met has decided to scab your plant [and] bring in replacement work," said Riley. "Goodyear scabbed us, and it's kind of like your mother dying. You don't know how that feels until it happens. You really want to turn cars over and bust heads, but if you do, you're going to lose the support of the community. Right now [the community has come to] realize that y'all gave up a bunch of wages and benefits to help this company come out of bankruptcy. They also realize that this company, instead of rewarding you with this ongoing contract, decided to give big bonuses to their upper management. So the Alabama AFL CIO stands with you."
Roberts returned to the stage and said April 28 is special to him because 32 years ago on that date, he addressed 10,000 miners in West Virginia who were three weeks into the Pittston Coal Strike of 1989.
"The UMWA, way back in the hills and hollers of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, we said, 'hold our beer; we're gonna show you how to win a strike right here.'" Roberts recalled. "We said, 'we're going to do something you're not gonna believe. We're going to copy what Gandhi did, what Moses did, what Jesus did what Dr. King did, and we're going to take our numbers and beat you.' We took on the state police. We took on the federal judge. We took on the state judge. We took on the FBI. We took on the White House. We took on the Congress. And guess what? We won in 10 and a half months."
Roberts encouraged the miners to stay the course and refuse to return to work until Warrior Met agrees to a contract that they consider fair.
"Today if you stick with the union, the union is gonna stick with you," Roberts said. "We hit a million dollars today invested in this strike, and we have more to spend, but when we spend money like this, we expect you to stand up and fight back. So the message today is we won't go back. What I mean by that [is] we're not going back to work until we have a contract that you ratify, and you tell me you're proud of."
Roberts referenced an old labor song called "Which Side Are You On?" that was written 1935 by a woman named Florence Reese who was married to a union miner.
"Today, that's the question we must ask," Roberts said. "Everybody in Alabama should be on our side because [Warrior Met Coal doesn't] pay for retiree health care. They don't pay for pensions, we do. They don't pay the right amount of money in wages. They don't pay the right amount for health care. They don't give you the right amount of time off."
At the conclusion of the rally, Roberts challenged participants to bring more people.
"Listen to me, I want this crowd to get to 10 thousand," said Roberts. "When this crowd gets to 10,000 those people in New York, those people in the courthouse, those people who are saying I don't know, who I'm for. They're going to be for you."
He said as the size of the rallies increases, the union plans to organize marches.
"We're going to march everywhere. We're going to be seen everywhere. This will no longer be a strike. This will be a moment right here in Alabama," Roberts said. "Remember this Jesus marched, Dr. King marched, Moses marched. I [also] want you to remember something [else]. Moses never sent an email. Moses never called Pharaoh. Moses went to see Pharaoh, and we know where Pharaoh exists."
The Unity Rallies will take place every Wednesday the miners' strike continues, and Roberts announced the president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO William Londrigan would attend and speak at the event next week.