Joanne Kuniansky, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for election for governor of New Jersey, is in Alabama with about a thousand coal miners who have been on strike for several months demanding better pay and benefits.
It’s an odd place for a New Jersey candidate to be campaigning but this coal miner strike is one of the rare labor actions in the anti-union Deep South, where miners from Warrior Met Coal have been taking shifts on the picket line for more than five months now.
Union advocates held a rally in New York to support the striking Alabama coal miners, bringing their message to the midtown Manhattan headquarters of BlackRock, a hedge fund that is Warrior Met Coal’s largest investor.
Workers say they took on a $6-an-hour cut in wages and reduced benefits in their 2016 union contract after Walter Energy, which eventually became Warrior Met Coal, declared bankruptcy in 2015. That agreement expired at midnight on April 1, 2021.
The United Mine Workers of America’s (UMWA) represents more than 1,100 workers at Warrior Met’s #4 Mine, #5 Mine processing plant, #7 Mine and the company’s Central Shop, all located near Brookwood, Ala. The miners are members of UMWA Local Unions 2245, 2397, 2368 and 2427.
Chris Brubaker, 47, who traveled from his home in Jasper, Alabama, to attend the rally, said that although he took a $6 per hour pay cut in the old contract, his employer is only offering $2 per hour in raises over the next five years.
“All we want is a fair contract,” Brubaker said. “We don’t want no more than what’s owed to us. We go underground in conditions that at any moment can get you killed.”
Warrior Met has been ignoring their workers’ plight while doling out millions of dollars in fees to Wall Street and paying bonuses to upper management, the union and miners said.
Mike Wright, 45, of Alabaster, Alabama, said the cuts to miners’ insurance coverage have resulted in higher medical bills and new debt from his diabetes treatment. Wright, the chair of safety at one Warrior Met’s mines, said the deductible model that the company switched to is the cause.
by deciding to focus on BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager with around $9½ trillion in assets, the union was the group asking the asset manager to take a stand on its investments.
About two-thirds of the company’s $9.5 trillion are invested in index funds — meaning it’s amassed major stakes in companies through passively managed portfolios — which has placed BlackRock in an awkward position, as Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink attempts to position the firm as a leader in responsible environmental, social and governance investing.
Kuniansky is one of five candidates running for governor in New Jersey, which is one of only two states in the nation that will elect a chief executive this year.
Jack M. Ciattarelli, of Hillsborough, is the Republican nominee and incumbent Democrat and Wall Street millionare Phil Murphy, who owns a 6.3-acre plot on the Navesink River in Middletown, where he lives in a $9.9 million mansion.
The Green Party candidate is Madelyn Hoffman and Libertarian Gregg Mele is also waging a dark horse effort.