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Members of United Mine Workers of America and other labor activists picketed outside BlackRock's New York City headquarters on July 28, 2021 to demand better pay and working conditions at Warrior Met's Brookwood mine in Alabama. (Photo: New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO/Facebook)

Alabama Miners Take Strike to BlackRock's NYC Headquarters

"All we want is a fair contract," said one striking miner. "We don't want no more than what's owed to us."

Brett Wilkins

Chanting "Warrior Met has no soul—no contract, no coal," over 1,000 United Mine Workers of America members and their allies picketed outside multinational asset management firm BlackRock's headquarters in New York City Wednesday to demand better pay and benefits.

Miners and labor activists from states including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, South Dakota, and West Virginia joined the picket lines in a show of solidarity with UMWA workers at Alabama's Brookwood Mine, operated by Warrior Met Coal, of which BlackRock is the largest shareholder. The Alabama miners have been on strike for over four months as they seek a new collective bargaining agreement with Warrior Met.

According to UMWA:

UMWA Miners saved Warrior Met. We made the sacrifices that brought this company out of bankruptcy. While upper management was getting bonuses, UMWA miners took pay and benefit cuts. The productive, professional miners at Warrior Met mined the coal that meant the company could become successful again.

The people who manage the Wall Street hedge funds that own Warrior Met don't know us, they don't know our families, they don't know our communities. And they don't care. All they care about is sucking as much money as they can, every day that they can, from central Alabama.

We want Warrior Met to be successful. But they can be successful and fair to its workers and communities at the same time.

"We're here to let the whole world know that we will take it from the bottom of the United States to the top," miner Dedrick Gardner told The American Prospect. "Where we have to take this fight, we're going to take it."

Alabama miner Chris Brubaker told Bloomberg that "all we want is a fair contract. 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."

Indeed, Brookwood's miners labor in one of the world's most dangerous workplaces. On September 23, 2001, 13 workers at the complex's Jim Walter No. 5 coal mine were killed in a methane gas explosion and cave-in. Miners must work with the ever-present peril of explosions, strata failures, dangerous machinery, and dusty conditions that can cause diseases including silicosis and black lung.

The striking miners have also faced arrests and police intimidation on the picket line, as well as violence including multiple vehicular assaults by strike-breaking workers.

Wednesday's action follows a smaller protest by 14 Warrior Met miners at BlackRock's headquarters last month. It also follows in the footsteps of past UMWA actions, including during the 1973-74 Brookside Strike in Harlan County, Kentucky, during which miners protested outside a Duke Energy shareholder meeting in Manhattan.

Following the June protest, Warrior Met management offered miners a contract that was rejected by a vote of 1,006 to 45. As miners and their children burned copies of the contract, rank-and-file UMWA members accused union leadership of sabotage.

As World Socialist Web Site reported in April:

During informational meetings... rank-and-file miners shouted down UMWA President Cecil Roberts and denounced him as a sellout for agreeing to a five-year deal which restored only $1.50 out of the $6-an-hour pay cut workers suffered in 2016. The company's brutal disciplinary policy, which has resulted in countless unjust terminations, would have been kept in place under the deal, only with six strikes before dismissal instead of four.

Since the 2016 concessions, which the union said were necessary to bring the company out of bankruptcy, Warrior Met has gotten record coal production and profits out of the workers. It made $302 million in 2019, while CEO Walter J. Scheller III has pocketed an annual salary of over $4 million even during the pandemic.

UMWA says it concessions to Warrior Met total more than $1.1 billion.

"Warrior Met is the creation of a shadowy network of New York hedge funds and investment banks," Roberts said in a statement. "We're in New York City because we are simply following the money, and demanding that those who created that wealth—the miners—get their fair share of it."

Standing in solidarity with the UMWA workers, South Dakota Federation of Labor president Kooper Caraway told Wednesday's demonstrators that "workers all over the world are going to stand with you and support you, and there's nothing BlackRock or any other rich asshole can do about it."

The strike comes amid calls from climate experts and advocacy groups—as well as from UMWA leadership—to transition to renewable energy in the face of the worsening climate emergency.

"We have to be realistic," Roberts said earlier this year. "Whether people agree that it needs to happen or not, an energy transition is going on in the United States. We need to be upfront about that."

BlackRock, which earlier this year announced (pdf) it will hold its directors accountable when their companies fail to address climate change in their business plans, has also been the target of recent protests by climate activists, as the company is the world's largest investor in fossil fuels and deforestation.

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