Alabama Coal Miners Strike Could Inspire Republican Populists

A group of Alabama coal miners made news in Manhattan on November 4 when they were arrested by the NYPD while peacefully protesting outside the headquarters of BlackRock. The protestors were at America’s largest financial asset manager due to a strike declared last April by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) against Warrior Met Coal, Inc.

Warrior Met is based in Brookwood, Alabama, and mines non-thermal metallurgical coal. The company calls itself “environmentally and socially minded.” BlackRock owns around 14 percent of Warrior Met, which makes it one of its largest shareholders. The miners in New York protested at BlackRock because its ownership stake significantly ended the ongoing strike.

BlackRock is a top-five owner in almost every major international corporation and holds substantial voting power in virtually all of them. The firm has been active in pushing its influence on corporate management and CEOs in recent years. BlackRock founder and CEO Laurence Fink have been inclined to get involved in corporate governance for even giants like Exxon.

The strike against Warrior Met sought to recover concessions made by the UMWA in 2016 when Warrior Met’s predecessor company, Walter Resources, was undergoing a bankruptcy court-managed restructuring.

The collective bargaining agreement that survived the restructuring expired last March. It extracted substantial concessions from the union. Miners were stuck with a $6 per hour pay cut and much more expensive health care coverage. They also lost considerable overtime that had been in place for the weekend and holiday work.

The UMWA said when declaring the strike that the concessions made by workers are the “reason Warrior Met even exists today.”

The core issue in the strike has boiled down to be overtime work, as workers are claiming that they are being compelled to work shifts up to 12 to 16 hours that go over into weekends and holidays. Management is also demanding to have the power to terminate striking workers and provide senior positions to the strikebreakers on whom they are currently relying. The average pay of the miners in Brookwood is around $22 per hour.
Warrior Met has meanwhile returned to profitable operation since coming out of Walter’s bankruptcy restructuring. Senior executives are reportedly being awarded bonuses this year.

BlackRock is a major player in Washington and has close ties to the Biden administration and the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign. Several previous employees of BlackRock have landed in lucrative positions within the Biden administration.

Warrior Met’s position in the strike negotiations would not come near to restoring the position workers held before Walter Energy entered bankruptcy.

The dynamics of the labor dispute should be lovely to Republican populists, as the tension between blue-collar Alabama miners and the swamp creatures from BlackRock is tailor-made for a Trump-like political approach.