‘Worn down by the stress’: An update on the Warrior Met Coal strikers

It can’t be easy for a union to end a strike when there have been no gains for the strikers. But United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts did so on Feb. 16 when he sent a letter containing an “unconditional offer to return to work” to Warrior Met Coal CEO Walter Scheller.

Since April 2021, about 1,000 members of the UMWA District 20 had been striking against the Alabama company, which mines coal for making steel, after the two sides failed to agree on a new labor contract. Shortly after Roberts sent his letter of surrender, Warrior Met announced that its 2022 adjusted net income was up almost 193% over 2021’s at $666.1 million, and that it would make a special dividend payout to stockholders of 88 cents a share.

The unproductive negotiations that led to the strike failed to return the miners to the compensation package they enjoyed under the contract with the company’s former owner, Walter Energy, which went into bankruptcy in 2015 after the often volatile steel market tanked. Warrior Met Coal LLC was formed from among Walter Energy’s first lien creditors, and the new owners exploited the advantage of a blank slate to draw up a new five-year contract. That 2016 agreement was tremendously disadvantageous to the workers, slashing their pay by $6 an hour and stripping crucial benefits, but they agreed to it with the understanding that it was provisional while the company rebuilt. It locked them into the lowest wages paid in any Alabama mine and failed to guarantee periodic adjustments if the company’s fortunes rose — which they did the very next year, and the next, and the one after that.

Read the Q & A with Larry Spencer on Facing South