As Alabama Miners Continue a Months-Long Walkout, Union Members Target the Bankers Who Own the Mines
Steve Zimmerman, stepped off a chartered bus full of West Virginia coal miners in front of the 5th Avenue and 59th Street entrance to Central Park in New York City at about 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4. He wasn’t happy.
“I’m a coal miner—so Democrats aren’t supportive of us,” he said. “I’m a union coal miner—so Republicans aren’t supportive of us either. We’re stuck in a very rough spot here.”
The 36-year-old United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) vice president of Local 1501 took a drag off his cigarette and looked out wordlessly across the growing assemblage of coal miners. Many of them are retired men well into their 70s. They were preparing to march on the offices of BlackRock Inc. in support of roughly 1,100 union members striking since April 1 against Warrior Met Coal in Alabama.
BlackRock is supposedly the largest asset manager in the world with some $9.46 trillion under its managerial control. It’s also the largest shareholder in Warrior Met Coal. Warrior Met Coal just made more money during the last fiscal quarter than it has since the Covid pandemic began — approaching $40 million.
Money is rolling in hand over fist for the elite, and all we’re asking for is our fair share… Union Member Steve Zimmerman
But the company, which insists it is negotiating in good faith with the UMWA while it brings in replacement workers under the escort of state troopers has yet to reach an equitable agreement with workers. FIve years ago, workers accepted $6-an-hour pay cuts, increased healthcare costs and loss of overtime pay and paid holidays in a successful bid to keep the then-fledgling mine operations afloat.
“When you have corporations that can take advantage of working-class Americans, that’s going awful terrible — that’s a sin in my eyes,” Zimmerman said. “I mean, money is rolling in hand over fist for the elite, and all we’re asking for is our fair share — that’s it.
“We just want to be able to raise our families in a decent way, [and] not be beholden to some government handout or anything else.”
The growing frustration that Zimmerman expressed is reflected in the strikes working-class Americans throughout all sectors of the economy have been engaged in this year at Kellogg’s, Nabisco, John Deere, Kaiser Permanente and others.
As #Striketober turns into #StrikeGiving, sanitation workers in Louisiana are striking, so are steelworkers in Ohio and bakery workers at Jon Donaire Desserts in California. Already this month, 18 new strikes and labor actions have sparked around the country, according to the Cornell-ILR Labor Action Tracker.
‘A Decent Contract’
“These guys in Alabama aren’t asking for the sun, the moon, the stars and everything else. No — they just want a decent contact,” Zimmerman said.
At 1,400 to 2,100 feet deep, Warrior Met Coal’s Brookwood, Ala., mines are the deepest vertical shaft coal mines in all of North America.
“My god, it’s not energy-producing coal,” Zimmerman said. “This is met coal — metallurgy coal, used in the production of steel.
“These guys cage down 2,500 feet, work in the worst conditions [imaginable] and the company is of the opinion that…we’re going to give you this contract, you’re going to take it and you’re going to like it.”
U.S. Census figures put Alabama’s per capita income at somewhere around $27,928. Subtract $9,504 for the yearly gross median rent and you get down to $18,424.
“We want to work our way through life and have things and be able to put shoes on our children’s feet,” Zimmerman said.
“It something breaks, we want to be able to go and fix it. Do you know how many people in the United States, if their furnace broke, could actually go and replace it? You’re talking about having an extra $5,000 in your bank [account] — I know a lot of people that can’t handle an emergency right now.
“The strikers down there in Alabama have gone though absolute hell — I mean absolute hell.”
Roughly 500 UMWA members — active and retired — marched on BlackRock, in part, because Alabama Judge James H. Roberts Jr. issued a restraining order on Oct. 27 prohibiting the union from picketing less than 300 yards in front of any of Warrior Met Coal’s mine entrances.
UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts declared that the U.S. Constitution protects the right of American citizens to “stand on the side of a road and call a scab a scab.
“It protects their rights to peacefully assemble and air their grievances with an employer or any other person or entity. It protects their rights to seek redress from government.”
New York City cops later charged Roberts and five others outside BlackRock’s offices with disorderly conduct.
“We have to battle the police, we have to battle the state troopers, we have to battle Right to Work [laws], we have to battle Republicans who are pro-coal — it doesn’t make sense to me,” Zimmerman said.
Despite increased media attention paid to the plight of the American working class during the era of Covid, Zimmerman still doesn’t believe nearly enough people are paying attention.
“We’ve gotta put people in office that support labor and hammer home the [plight of the] working family, that’s all we can do,” he said before joining the march. “Hopefully, something happens here to make the country notice. It’s tough to get anybody to notice. God willing, we’ll be here, and somebody will hear our voices.”