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Both Sides Hold Fast in 4-Month-Old Strike

March 13, 1988

ZAP, N.D. (AP) _ The strike at the Indian Head Mine is in its fifth month, but neither management nor union miners are showing any sign of backing down in their dispute over job security.

The miners say they’re still united behind the walkout, which began Nov. 1, while management claims the job is getting done safely, on time and at lower cost.

″It is a matter of principle. It isn’t a matter of money anymore,″ said Dan Neurohr, president of United Mine Workers of America Local 8880.

The union represents 44 striking miners and wants written assurances its members will be hired at other North American Coal Corp. mines when work at Indian Head ends in 1992. The company refuses such a guarantee, arguing it would be unfair to its 350 non-union miners in North Dakota.

Neurohr calls North American’s tactics ″union-busting.″

But North American won’t budge from its stance, even for wage concessions, said company spokesman August Keller.

″It’s like the union asking us to give them a trip to the moon. It’s just something we can’t do,″ he said.

Each side accuses the other of committing various acts of vandalism, ranging from littering roads with nails to knocking out windows.

Talks broke down in early February, and no new negotiations are scheduled.

North American negotiators offered a wage package worth an average of $18 an hour and more fringe benefits, Keller said.

As both sides maintain their stances in the strike, North American prepared to hire 10 temporary workers who haven’t worked at other company mines, the first such move since the strike started.

Neurohr said he wasn’t nervous about keeping his striking miners on the picket lines as the coal company maneuvered to hire replacements to take their jobs.

The replacements, who are slated to go to work later this month, have been told they will lose their jobs if the strike is settled, Keller said.

The company has mailed letters inviting the disgruntled workers back, but none has accepted the offer, Neurohr said.

The striking miners planned ahead and saved money to ride out the economic storm of being idled from their $40,000-a-year jobs, Neurohr said. The workers, with $200 checks each week from the union’s strike fund, are paying their bills, he said.

But one miner on the picket line said some strikers have been unable to make their house payments. More will search out at least part-time jobs when the weather warms, he said.

Meanwhile, the company said it was ″doing fine.″

″We are making our coal deliveries. We are meeting the demand. ... The cost of production on a per-ton basis is lower than anytime in the last year,″ Keller said.

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