Miners Union Welcomes Governor’s Plea for Negotiations
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ The United Mine Workers president accepted an invitation from the governor Friday to resume negotiations in the 12th week of a coal strike that has produced a violent 10-state sympathy walkout.
Gov. Gaston Caperton issued his invitation to the UMW and Pittston Coal Group Inc. in a speech to the National Coal Association’s annual meeting at White Sulphur Springs, where Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan quickly endorsed it.
″Come to my office on Monday, stay in my home, the governor’s mansion, and ... engage in continuous negotiations of differences until a settlement is reached,″ Caperton said. He said the strike could cost West Virginia $20 million a month.
UMW President Richard Trumka issued a statement welcoming Caperton’s offer, while Pittston did not immediately respond.
Mine operators at the conference had a mixed reaction to four conditions Caperton attached to the negotiations. They praised him for calling on both sides to negotiate in good faith and on the UMW to end wildcat strikes, which the union has denied orchestrating.
But the industry leaders faulted Caperton’s request that legal action against the union be dropped and that no other coal companies agree to fulfill Pittston’s contracts. The UMW has claimed Pittston made such arrangements, which Pittston has denied.
Lujan said it’s not essential that Caperton’s conditions be met, only that the two sides begin talking again.
About 1,900 UMW workers in Virginia and West Virginia went on strike against Pittston on April 5 when the company imposed a contract after 14 months of fruitless negotiations. It requires overtime and Sunday work and cuts medical benefits to retirees.
After a June 11 rally at the West Virginia Capitol, which Caperton attended, wildcat strikes began spreading through coal country, idling 44,000 workers in 10 states.
The walkout continued mostly unabated Friday, despite several companies winning back-to-work court orders against UMW members whose contracts forbid sympathy strikes.
U.S. District Judge Dennis Knapp postponed hearings for five companies who asked that the UMW and its members be held in contempt for ignoring back-to- work orders. He also postponed a separate hearing on requests by 13 other coal companies for such orders.
Union attorney Chuck Donnelly said the judge cited the logistical problem of hearing from 18 companies in one day as well as indicating he wanted to give the UMW and Pittston time to consider Caperton’s proposal.
The postponements left in effect the fines Knapp levied Wednesday against six UMW locals, their officers and members for defying a back-to-work order issued earlier this week. The fines will increase each day the locals, officers and union members are in violation of the order. But the unions have appealed and are not yet paying.
The judge also ordered U.S. marshals to give copies of his order to pickets at 12 sites. U.S. Marshal Walt Biondi said Friday that pickets dispersed as the marshals delivered the order, but there was no indication they were returning to work.
Back-to-work orders also are being sought by companies in Alabama and Pennsylvania, and Consolidation Coal Co. has said it plans to seek similar legal action in Illinois and Ohio.
About 100 miners returned to work in St. Clairsville, Ohio, and no new walkouts were reported Friday. But the violence common in coal strikes continued. Miners in Stone, Ky. rolled a jeep driven by a Pittston mine manager onto its side after hearing rumors about replacement workers. They righted the jeep and the manager drove off.
In Johnstown, Pa., roving pickets turned away about 600 United Steelworkers members at a Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant that makes railroad coal cars, the company said. Bethlehem Steel owns BethEnergy Mines.
The estimated number of miners involved in unauthorized walkouts, according to union and industry officials, are: West Virginia 16,000; Illinois, 8,500; Pennsylvania, 6,900; Alabama, 5,000; Ohio, 2,560; Kentucky, 2,325; Indiana, 1,750; Virginia, 755; Missouri, 350; and Tennessee, 200.