Alabama Miners Set Record For Maintaining Strike Since April 2021
Miners in Alabama went on strike in April 2021 after the company hit them with wage and benefit cuts. A year and a half later, with the company continuing to post record profits, the miners and their families are still on strike — and still refusing to back down, Erika Wills reported for Jacobin magazine.
Photo Insert: Over 10,000 UMWA Members, their families, and supporters rallied in front of the U.S. Capitol on September 16, 2016.
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 United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) District 20, solemnly struck the miners’ memorial bell as the names of victims of mine-related deaths were read aloud.
The annual Miners’ Memorial Service commemorates not only those who left for work in the mines over the past year never to come home again; it also honors the 13 men who died in a series of explosions in Jim Walter Resources Mine No. 5 in Brookwood on September 23, 2001.
Standing on the front lawn of the church in the shadows of mine tipples, families reminisced about gathering at the same location on that fateful day in September when they anxiously waited to hear if their loved ones had survived the blasts.
In 2001, the No. 5 mine was owned by Walter Energy. Today it is part of Warrior Met Coal, the company at the center of the UMWA’s 550-day strike, the longest and largest ongoing strike in the United States.
As strikers, families, and community members gathered to remember the fallen miners, all were reminded that what is at stake in the Warrior Met strike is, literally, life and death.
In 2016, after Walter Energy filed for bankruptcy protection, the union agreed to temporary 20 percent wage and benefit cuts until profitability could be achieved by the newly formed entity (Warrior Met) assembled by private equity firms including Apollo Global Management, Blackstone, and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
Since Warrior Met went public in 2017, it has returned over $1.4 billion in dividends to shareholders. By 2019, the original equity firms had sold their shares to a new group of Wall Street investment funds. BlackRock, Vanguard, Fidelity, and State Street are currently the company’s largest shareholders.
Warrior Met continues to report record profits, including $297 million in the second quarter of 2022, signifying the company’s financial ability to address workers’ economic demands. Nonetheless, the striking miners have yet to see a reverse in wage and benefit cuts — which prompted them to launch their strike in April 2021.