This month marks one year since 1,100 members of the United Mine Workers of America went on strike at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama following the failure of the union and company to agree on a labor contract. The strike continues today. Warrior Met was created to buy the assets of Walter Energy after that company declared bankruptcy in 2015. A number of hedge funds own shares in Warrior Met, with New York-based BlackRock — the world's largest asset manager — controlling the most, at about 13% at the end of 2021. Earlier this year, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) held a hearing on Wall Street greed and growing oligarchy in the United States that used Warrior Met as a case study.
In initial vote tallies today, Amazon warehouse workers in New York are ahead by hundreds of votes in favor of forming a union, while in Alabama the election is too close to call, pending a court hearing. The vote at Amazon’s mammoth warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, was a rerun of the election last April that the union lost by more than 2 to 1. The results of that election were thrown out after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Amazon had illegally interfered with the vote. This time, out of 2,375 valid ballots, 993 workers at the fulfillment center voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, while 875 workers voted in favor. There are 416 ballots being contested by either the company or the union, and 59 voided ballots.
Bessemer, Alabama - The second Bessemer Alabama Amazon workers and Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) labor board union vote will be counted starting on March 28th. It comes as a result of the National Labor Relations Board ruling that Amazon’s anti-union actions in the 2021 union campaign, was in violation of laws in the National Labor Relations Act. When looking at the challenges and meaning of the Bessemer Amazon union campaigns, It’s important to have a long view of organizing labor in the South. Transnational corporations like Amazon are attracted to the South, because of the low wages, its anti-union laws and the racist divisions in the working-class.
It’s a moment of increased bargaining power for the US working class. Workers on the order of millions are quitting their jobs and finding new ones that will pay them better. Those with unions are more willing to fight to begin undoing prior concessions, their confidence bolstered by the realization that employers will have more trouble than usual replacing them should they strike; that these fights do not approach the level of struggle of the 1970s, much less the 1930s, do not make them insignificant. And the momentum is with reformers within unions: see recent efforts to transform the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters, two still mighty organizations even after sustained and systematic decline.
In a victory for employees at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, a federal labor official on Monday formally directed a new union election following allegations that the company engaged in illegal misconduct leading up to an unsuccessful vote in April. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), celebrated the order from National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 10 Director Lisa Henderson, which a spokesperson for the agency confirmed to multiple media outlets. "Today's decision confirms what we were saying all along—that Amazon's intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace—and as the regional director has indicated, that is both unacceptable and illegal," Appelbaum said.
A Tuscaloosa County circuit judge has issued a restraining order against picket line activity by the United Mine Workers of America at Warrior Met Coal. Circuit Judge James H. Roberts Jr. issued the order Wednesday afternoon. It prohibits picketing “or other activity” within 300 yards of 12 different locations owned by Warrior Met Coal in Tuscaloosa County, including mines and offices. The three-page order also prohibits “in any manner interfering with, hindering or obstructing, by threats, intimidation or acts of violence, the conduct and operation of Warrior’s business and supporting activities.” That includes delivery of supplies, workers entering property, lying in front of entrances, or using obstructions.
Bessemer, AL — Here is what a 1920s city looks like in a 2020s world. Along Bessemer’s broad downtown streets sit an array of small shops that have somehow managed to survive into the age of big box retailers: the rug store, the dusty furniture store, the store that sells sewing machines. They sit alongside empty, peeling husks of all the stores that didn’t make it. On one prime downtown corner a block from the courthouse, you can peer through the window of an abandoned pharmacy to see a four-foot plant growing up through the floor. The old railroad still runs through Bessemer, but most everything else has been sucked out by modern commerce. The town is emblematic of many that have seen their small business districts destroyed, first by Walmart and its imitators, more recently by Amazon.
Larry Spencer, UMWA District 20 Vice President, represents the 1,100 coal miners in three UMWA locals which on strike against Warrior Met in Alabama since April 1, 2021. He will give an update on the strike in a September 28 webinar. The strikers are fighting to reverse concessions that were foisted on them in 2016 when BlackRock and other billionaire creditors set up Warrior Met Coal and took over mine operations with the aid of a bankruptcy court. To keep their jobs, Warrior Met made the miners work up to seven days a week and take a $6-an-hour pay cut, accept reduced health insurance, and give up most of their overtime pay and paid holidays. BlackRock is one of the three majority shareholders in the new company.
The S-curved roads were dark, surrounded by nothing but trees and the bright stars. After a turn, we arrived at a clearing, where the 4 and 7 mines send their coal. Two bulldozers were doing their last rounds over a large pile of coal, while a few yards ahead, four workers were holding the picket line. On that night of April 1, 1,100 miners at Warrior Met Coal Inc started a historic strike in Brookwood, Alabama. The miners directed us to the entrances of the main mines. When we arrived, workers were setting up tents, unloading firewood, and preparing the fire pits. By the light of a few cellphones, we interviewed Miles, a third-generation miner. When we asked him why he and his union were going on strike, he explained that he was barely able to see his four-year-old daughter grow up.
Over 1,100 union coal miners in Brookwood, Alabama, have been on an unfair labor practices strike against Warrior Met Coal for over five months. For five months, workers and their families have been holding the line, demanding to get back what was stolen from them with their last contract, demanding to actually have time to spend with their families, demanding to be treated with the respect they deserve for making this mine more productive than ever. The UMWA’s strike motto is “One day longer, one day stronger,” and workers are showing no signs that they plan to back down. In Part I of this special two-part update on the miners’ strike, our brother-in-arms Jacob Morrison from The Valley Labor Report interviews striking workers and supporters who attended a solidarity rally that the union held in Brookwood last week.
History repeated itself as hundreds of miners spilled out of buses in June and July to leaflet the Manhattan offices of asset manager BlackRock, the largest shareholder in the mining company Warrior Met Coal. Some had traveled from the pine woods of Brookwood, Alabama, where 1,100 coal miners have been on strike against Warrior Met since April 1. Others came in solidarity from the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania and the hollows of West Virginia and Ohio. Among them was 90-year-old retired Ohio miner Jay Kolenc, in a wheelchair at the picket line—retracing his own steps from five decades ago. It was 1974 when Kentucky miners and their supporters came to fight Wall Street in the strike behind the film Harlan County USA.
To get to the big ballpark in Brookwood, Alabama, you drive down the Miners Memorial Parkway. The road goes by the local headquarters of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and close to the Miners Memorial monument, which remembers 13 miners killed in a 2001 explosion. A lot of coal miners work in Brookwood, and a lot have died here. Right now, more than a thousand are on strike there, at the Warrior Met Coal. It sits just off the same road. On Wednesday morning, a line of buses lumbered down the winding road through the woods, and a line of pickup trucks piled up behind them. All passed the “We Are One” UMWA signs lining the road for miles before turning into the ballpark, where the sprawling open grass was dotted with tents and a stage.
Miners at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama have been on strike for almost five months, struggling to reverse concessions in pay, health care, and safety. Strikers brought their picket lines from the piney woods of the South to the tony Manhattan offices of three hedge fund shareholders on June 22, and more than 1,000 mine workers and union allies return today to demonstrate outside the offices of the company’s largest shareholder, asset manager BlackRock. Miners have chanted, “No Contract, No Coal!” and “Warrior Met Has No Soul” on picket lines from the worksite in Brookwood, Alabama, to New York City. “We’re here to let the whole world know that we will take it from the bottom of the United States to the top. Where we have to take this fight, we’re going to take it,” Dedrick Gardner, a first-generation miner from a union household of teachers and postmasters, said on the New York picket line in June.
The Bessemer Amazon unionization effort was full of potential. It held the promise of a union bringing together the Black Lives Matter movement and a struggle for labor rights in order to take on one of the biggest, most odious corporations in the country. Maybe a Southern state would set off a movement again, like West Virginia and Oklahoma kicked off the teachers’ spring. Alongside Left Voice comrades, I decided to go to Bessemer, Alabama the week before voting ended. As I prepared to go, I had a weird feeling. I kept looking at interviews and I saw just two Amazon workers, over and over and over. They were great spokespeople, no doubt. But where were the other 5,698 workers?
Oxford, MI - The woman’s face still haunts me. Lined from many years of work on the farm and then in the cotton mills, she is nameless in my memory, just another “linthead” in the eyes of the mill owners, “white trash” others might say, someone off the cow patch and now in a factory in some Southern backwater working 12-hour days. In her eyes, however, was a spark of something, a flicker of hope, and it came from the union she and countless other cotton mill workers were desperate to join back in the 1930s. “We began to feel we could be a part of a great movement,” she said in filmmakers George Stoney, Judith Helfland, and Susanne Rostock’s landmark 1995 documentary The Uprising of ’34.