A National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge has strongly blasted the Warrior Met coal company in its long-running dispute over a new contract with the United Mine Workers—a dispute which led bosses to lock out the firm’s 1,100 miners for more than a year and a half. The judge formally ruled the firm’s unfair labor practices provoked the conflict. In an 88-page ruling, ALJ Melissa Olivero came down particularly hard on company officials for claiming they couldn’t afford the union’s demands for raises in each year of a new contract, and the union’s tries at reclaiming the givebacks the workers had to yield to keep the firm going when it was the old, and bankrupt, Jim Walter mine.
If you’re one of the people who’s been following the Warrior Met Coal strike over the past 23 months, it’s almost certain that you’ve heard the name Haeden Wright. The 35-year-old mother of two is a teacher, an activist, an elected official, a coal miner’s daughter and a boss’s worst nightmare. She’s a vocal presence on social media, has given countless interviews, and has participated in panels and other public events in an effort to direct attention to the strike. But the first time I met Wright was before all that. It was April 2021 and we were standing in a forest clearing in Alabama’s Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, surrounded by 1,000 striking coal miners and their families.
A somber bell toll broke the silence outside the West Brookwood Church in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The white-gloved hand of Larry Spencer, International Vice President of Mine Workers (UMWA) District 20, solemnly struck the Miners’ Memorial bell as the names of victims of mine-related deaths were read aloud. “As we gather this evening for our service, it is appropriate that we remember in the past twelve months over 2021 and 2022 there has been tremendous heartache as the result of mining accidents across this country,” Thomas Wilson, a retired UMWA staff representative, announced from the podium. “Twelve coal miners’ lives have been snuffed out—also, 19 metal and non-metal miners—for a total of 31 fallen miners since we last gathered.”
The miners who dig black rocks from beneath the soil of Alabama returned to New York July 28 to protest outside the steel-clad offices of BlackRock Fund Advisors on East 52nd Street. The investment firm owns 13% of the Warrior Met Coal company in Brookwood, Alabama, where 1,000 miners have been on strike since April 1. Hundreds of miners from throughout the Appalachian coal belt filled four police pens on both sides of the block, joined by supporters from a dozen-odd New York unions, cheering loudly when the drivers of Verizon vans, Uber taxis, and food-delivery and garbage trucks passing by honked their horns in support.