11 Union Members Arrested In Occupation of UMW Office
PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Eleven United Mine Workers members on strike for more than five years were arrested today on charges of breaking into the UMW District 30 office in a protest of termination of their strike benefits.
Members of UMW Local 2492 in Phelps, near Pikeville in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky, remained outside the office afterward, continuing the protest.
The 90-member local has been striking McCoy-Caney Coal Co., now called Colonial Coal Co., near Phelps since 1984 when the company refused to sign the 1984 Bituminous Coal Operators’ Association contract, the national contract with the UMW.
The miners received their last strike benefit check on Dec. 15, and their health benefits could end within 30 days, said Hilman Dotson, president of Local 2492.
Dotson was one of those charged with breaking into the UMW district office early today in an attempt to bring attention to their plight.
Police went to the office about 12:45 a.m. EST to investigate a reported break-in and arrested the men on third-degree burglary charges, according to police records. The men were released after each posted $5,000 bond.
The miners returned to the office parking lot after their release and were joined by about 30 other union members about 5 a.m., Dotson said.
″We’re going to protest at the office until we get our checks back,″ said Dotson, who pledged that the protest would be peaceful.
Dotson said they were losing their strike benefits because the union’s international leadership determined there was no movement in contract talks.
The frustrated miners also picketed outside the UMW office on Dec. 18.
A sign on one of the miners’ trucks mentioned UMW Vice President Cecil Roberts and a union occupation of a coal processing plant in Virginia last summer.
″If Cecil Roberts can occupy - he taught us this tactic - so can we,″ it said.
Dotson said Leonard Fleming, co-administrator of District 30, spoke with the men today and promised to present their concerns to the international union.
One of the miners, Homer Estep, said he has had a tough time feeding his family since his strike benefits were cut off.
″I’m living now on $92 a month and there’s four of us at home,″ he said. ″It’s pretty bad when you get up in the morning and you only have a piece of bologna to give the boys for breakfast.″
Telephone calls to the district office went unanswered this morning. In Washington, UMW staff member Bill Banig said he had not been aware of the situation and declined to comment.