Union Miners March to State Capitol
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Hundreds of United Mine Workers rallied against the nation’s largest coal company Monday, then marched more than a mile to the state Capitol to lobby for a bill to protect strikers’ jobs.
″The days of picketing with guns and knives and ball bats are over. We’re going to start picketing with our minds and our hearts,″ said Ed Patterson, a union coal miner from Benwood.
About 7,500 miners have been on a strike against Peabody Holding Co. Inc. of St. Louis since Feb. 2 in West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.
The UMW struck after the union’s contract with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association expired Feb. 1.
Peabody is a member of the association, which includes 12 of the largest U.S. coal companies. Negotiations have stalled since mid-December in a dispute over union opposition to companies establishing non-union subsidiaries to which they shift reserves and purchase orders.
West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania miners, wearing camouflage fatigues, the symbol of UMW strikers, gathered Monday at a downtown office building that houses the offices of Peabody subsidiary Eastern Associated Coal. A state trooper estimated the crowd at about 400.
Miners stood quietly on each the building’s 18 floors for about an hour and some brought flowers to secretaries. Others gathered outside.
″We need to get back to the bargaining table and solve these matters through negotiating,″ company spokesman Terry Whitt said.
Miners carried signs saying, ″Solidarity: Peabody unfair to miners.″ Some wore yellow ″solidarity″ ribbons and many carried video cameras.
In heavy snow, the miners marched along the sidewalks to the Capitol to lobby legislators for a bill to prohibit hiring replacement workers during a strike.
At the Capitol, Gov. Gaston Caperton shook hands with miners as he walked into his office.
″Are you with us?″ one asked.
Caperton nodded and smiled. ″You’ve always been good friends to me,″ he said.
The miners filled the floor of the House of Delegates, but the House wasn’t in session and only about a dozen lawmakers were there.
UMW District 17 President Bob Phalen told House Speaker Chuck Chambers and other lawmakers the union wants to negotiate.
″We don’t want to strike. We don’t want to fight,″ Phalen said. ″But rest assured we are ready.″
Chambers said the Legislature supported the miners’ right to bargain and warned them to resist violence.
Also Monday, two picketing miners were injured when struck by a bus carrying Peabody white-collar employees in Boonville, Ind., a union spokesman said.
Russ Stilwell, the UMW strike coordinator for Indiana, said he was on the picket line at Peabody’s Squaw Creek Mine when he was hit by the front bumper of the bus and another miner was thrown into the side of another vehicle.
Stilwell said he suffered bruised ribs. Dan McKinney, 41, was hospitalized in fair condition.
Joe Klingl, a Peabody Coal Co. spokesman, in Henderson, Ky., blamed the strikers for the incident. He said about 20 picketers blocked the company road that leads to the mine.
″The buses slowed to a crawl and passed through the picket line,″ Klingl said. ″Peabody Coal later learned that one of the picketers claims to have been injured by the bus.″