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Two Sides Resume Talks In Pittston Coal Strike

July 18, 1989

DUFFIELD, Va. (AP) _ The United Mine Workers and The Pittston Co. agreed today to resume contract talks under supervision of a mediator in an effort to end a bitter strike that has idled thousands of coal miners in several states.

UMW President Richard Trumka and Pittston Vice President Joseph Farrell signed an agreement to hold negotiations Wednesday morning for the first time since June 8.

Under the agreement, a federal mediator will meet with each side separately and deliver proposals to the other party.

The agreement also said Pittston can continue to claim that talks are at an impasse, and the union can still claim that Pittston has failed to bargain in good faith.

The agreement was a result of a four-hour meeting with U.S. District Judge Glenn Williams.

In the coal fields, more than 4,000 UMW miners failed to report for work at Alabama’s two largest coal companies today, a day after they ended a four-week walkout. But a union official told them to go back for tonight’s shift.

Trumka was joined at the meeting by UMW Vice President Cecil Roberts, District 28 President Jackie Stump, and Judith Scott and Michael Buckner from the union’s headquarters in Washington.

Joining Odom at the table was Joseph Farrell, vice president for The Pittston Co., the coal group’s parent company.

The walkout at Pittston, one of the few coal companies not to sign a UMW contract last year, led to unauthorized sympathy walkouts beginning last month that affected up to 46,000 miners in 10 states.

Most of those miners have since gone back to work, but wildcat strikes still affect several thousand miners in West Virginia, and two mining companies in Alabama reported that about 4,000 miners failed to show up this morning. A union official told them to go back for tonight’s shift.

Negotiations between the two sides broke down June 8. The governors of Virginia and West Virginia had issued similar offers to mediate talks, but Pittston officials had declined them.

About 1,900 UMW members are striking Pittston in a dispute over benefits and job security issues. The strike began April 5 in Virginia and West Virginia before spreading to Kentucky. Hundreds of miners have been arrested for a variety of violent incidents as well as civil disobedience tactics.

Federal statistics released Friday gave an indication of how wildcat strikes that began June 12 are affecting coal production.

The data showed that during the third week of the walkout, coal production had dropped by 57 percent in the eastern half of the country and 42 percent nationally, compared with pre-strike levels.

Some miners in southern West Virginia remained on wildcat strikes today, awaiting the outcome of today’s meeting. Trumka last Friday asked the wildcat strikers to return to work, and most appeared to be doing so on Monday.

″It was time to come back,″ said Ron Airhart, president of UMW Local 1412 at Keystone Coal Mining Corp in Indiana County, Pa.

″We made an important statement. We got the country’s attention. Now we’ll get to work again and hope we’ve made a difference.″

″They have a full complement of people out there today and everything seems to have started up very well,″ said Carl Heldt, director of human resources for Old Ben Coal Co. in Oakland City, Ind.

″They’re in good spirits. I’ve been told by the mine management that people seemed delighted and eager to be there. They’ve been without paychecks for about a month.″

In West Virginia, pickets continued to idle mines.

″There were pickets out there today, scattered all over the highway,″ said Fred Jarrell, president of Local 1330 at Consolidation Coal Co.’s Rowland Mine in Raleigh County, about 60 miles southeast of Charleston.

″I stood up there yesterday and preached for two hours telling people to go back to work. I don’t think it did any good.″

Some scattered violence was reported Monday in southern West Virginia, with coal trucks serving non-union Elk Run Coal Co. in Boone County hit by rocks and other projectiles.

Mark Polen, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, blamed a ″radical minority″ within the union for keeping the mines idle, primarily in Charleston-based District 17, whose 8,000 working members are among the most militant in the nation.

″District 17 is the root, as usual, of the problems,″ Polen said.

Some 200 Island Creek Coal Co. workers also were off the job in western Kentucky on Monday evening, company spokeswoman Julie Accola said. She did not immediately return a telephone call this morning on whether they returned today.

In Alabama, 4,000 miners failed to report for work at the state’s two largest coal companies, Jim Walter Resources and the Drummond Co., just one day after they ended a four-week wildcat walkout, company officials said today. Union officials declined to comment on reports that the walkout stemmed from the firing of several miners.

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