UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) _ The president of the United Mine Workers of America said coal companies had better be prepared to share the wealth they are reaping from the highest coal prices in 20 years or face a strike next year.

Cecil Roberts told mine workers at a Mitchell's Day celebration in Fayette County on Sunday that the union will strike if it can't reach a new agreement this year with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association.

Although the current five-year agreement doesn't end until Dec. 31, 2002, the union unanimously approved a resolution at its convention last March to seek early negotiations on a new contract.

``If we don't get a contract this year, then next year we'll strike this industry until we get our just due,'' Roberts said. ``You have earned everything you're asking for. All we want is a little dignity.''

The contract with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association _ a coalition of a half-dozen coal companies _ covers more than 100,000 active, laid-off and retired union miners nationwide.

The coal association's spokesman, Morris Feibusch, wouldn't say if the group would consider early negotiations.

``We're extraordinarily silent on issues having to do with labor negotiations,'' Feibusch said. ``What (Roberts) said is what he said _ it was a Mitchell Day speech.''

John Mitchell guided the union during a five-month strike in Pennsylvania, earning workers a pay raise and eight-hour work day in 1902.