he wife of a striking coal miner was injured when she was intentionally hit by a car operated by a high-level employee of Warrior Met, the Alabama company at which the labor action is being directed
The five-month strike is about worker power in America as much as it is about fighting for a just transition for laborers employed in carbon-intensive industries.
Amy Pinkerton, the woman who was struck, is the wife of Greg Pinkerton, a member of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local Union 2245 who was a victim of similar violence last month.
In that incident, a truck driven by Warrior Met personnel drove past a picket shack on the side of a road where Greg Pinkerton was sitting.
The vehicle then turned around and deliberately drove through the front of the shack, where it knocked a fire barrel into Pinkerton, who was 30 feet away.
United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said the attack on Amy Pinkerton, who was peacefully and legally walking a picket line on July 9, 2021, at Warrior Met Coal, is just another instance of company-inspired violence as Warrior Met attempts to intimidate strikers to return to work.
“She was obeying the orders of the sheriff’s deputy to stay out of the way of vehicles as they were going in and out of the mine,” said Roberts, who witnessed the incident involving Amy Pinkerton. “Without any warning the driver of a Mazda pulled in, swerved toward her and struck her along her back and arm.”
“The deputy saw what happened to her and then did nothing” Roberts said. “This was a company foreman who committed this act of violence. This is an intentional and ongoing pattern of vehicular assault perpetrated by high-level employees of Warrior Met. We need some equal justice from law enforcement here in Alabama.”
Roberts reiterated his call for Warrior Met’s CEO to meet with union representatives to negotiate a fair, reasonable and peaceful end to this strike.
“That is in the company’s best interests, the miners’ best interests and the communities’ best interests,” Roberts said. “This violence by company personnel has to stop.”
Warrior Met Coal Inc., Alabama’s largest producer of metallurgical coal took over operations of the former Walter Energy mines in 2016. Metallurgical coal is used to make coke, the carbon-rich raw material utilized in traditional steel production.
The company is essentially the successor of the bankrupt Walter Energy; creditors effectively took control of its core assets to form Warrior Met Coal. As a result, entities associated with big investment managers own most of the present-day company, including affiliates of Blackstone, Apollo Global Management, and KKR, which was formerly known as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and conducted several of the earliest and biggest leveraged buyouts in history.
Striking mine workers brought their picket lines from the piney woods surrounding the Warrior Met colliery in Alabama to the corporate offices of hedge funds in Manhattan on June 22, where more than 1,000 miners and union allies demonstrated outside the offices of the coal company’s largest shareholder, asset manager BlackRock.
Those workers have been on strike for more than five months, struggling to reverse concessions in pay, health care, and safety made in 2016, to help the company then under new ownership navigate its way back from bankruptcy.
That is when the miners agreed to cuts in wages and benefits, reasoning that digging the company out of a financial hole was a worthy sacrifice to prevent another mine closure.
But the cuts were drastic.
Typically working in coal pits that are 1,400 to 2,100 feet underground, making them some of the deepest vertical shaft coal mines in North America, Warrior Met employees produce coal used in steel production in Asia, Europe and South America.
Warrior Met reported net income of $302 million for 2019, but when it came time to renegotiate their contract, workers were offered only $1.50 per hour more than they settled for five years earlier.
At that time, hourly wages were slashed by $6, paid holidays whittled down to three days a year, and overtime pay eviscerated, with schedules extending to seven days a week.
Health insurance costs also increases, with workers now responsible for 20 percent of their premium, with higher co-pays and deductibles. This is particularly crucial in mining work, where conditions lead to diseases like silicosis and black lung, which is caused by breathing in coal dust and has a high incidence among miners.
Warrior Met miners walked off the job on April 1, and workers roundly rejected it by a vote of 1,006 to 45 a contract offer management put on the table .
—reversing advances earlier struggles forced the coal bosses to concede—their grueling work hours hark back to the 19th century, the era before miners first won the eight-hour workday in 1896.
The company has refused to meet the miners’ just demands, and the bosses brought in nonunion workers to replace the strikers.
At the end of 2011, there were nearly 92,000 people working in the American coal industry, the most since 1997. By 2016, just 51,800 people were working in the industry.
As hydraulic fracking of shale formations opened up previously untapped natural gas fields, coal prices cratered, the global economy slowed, and environmental regulations kicked in to compensate for the climate crisis, about 41,000 jobs had been lost.
We face a series of crises unparalleled in our history — a raging pandemic, a dying planet, systematic racism, and wealth inequality not seen since the Great Depression. The corporate influence over our media and our government consistently raises the voices of the wealthy and powerful over the people.