Coal Contract on Paper at Last, Awaiting Miners’ Approval With PM-Coal Strike-Chronology
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Two weeks after the United Mine Workers and some of the nation’s biggest coal companies agreed on the basics of a new contract, the details are finally on paper and ready for a vote by the striking miners.
If ratified next week, the agreement, announced Tuesday, would end a sometimes violent, seven-month walkout by 17,500 miners in seven states.
″It’s been a long strike and the fat lady’s singing, that’s all I can say,″ said Russell Stilwell, a strike coordinator in Boonville, Ind.
Coal companies, mediators and union leaders refused to give details of the proposed, five-year contract.
But UMW President Richard Trumka said the union achieved ″better wages and pensions while protecting our health care and our working conditions″ and ″drew the line against double-breasting″ - the practice of closing union mines and setting up non-union subsidiaries.
Former Labor Secretary William J. Usery, appointed in September to mediate the talks, said an understanding on most issues was reached more than two weeks ago. The extra time was needed to put it in writing.
The union took down its picket lines on Nov. 23 as part of an agreement that the companies would rehire strikers fired for picket line misconduct. But the miners will stay off the job until the agreement is ratified.
″We’ll be better able to tell you how we feel after we get a look at the proposal,″ said Wayne Thompson, a local UMW president in Waverly, Ky. ″It’s nice to have a tentative agreement, though. It will feel good to get back to work, if we really do get back to work.″
″We’ve been on a strike for seven months and our people are hurting,″ said Roger Horton, a miner in Logan County, W.Va. ″But if it’s not a good agreement, it’s not going to pass. We stayed out this long for a good agreement, and that’s what we want.″
Thomas F. Hoffman, spokesman for the coal companies, said he expected the ratification to go smoothly. ″We plan to return to a normal working situation as quickly as possible,″ he said from Upper St. Clair, Pa.
Most coal companies entered the strike with major stockpiles and have maintained some production using supervisors.
The strike began May 10 and eventually involved miners in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.
The union had sought assurances that it would have job rights at new mines opened by their employers after existing mines are played out. Without such security, UMW members were ″mining themselves out of a job,″ Trumka said.
The strike crippled the economies of many coalfield communities, where a mine often provides most of the jobs. A nonunion contractor was shot to death outside a West Virginia mine in July. Eight miners await trial.