Pittston, UMW Prepare for Return to Work
CASTLEWOOD, Va. (AP) _ The nearly 1,700 Appalachian miners who ratified a contract with Pittston Coal Group after a 10 1/2 -month strike prepared to go back to their jobs this week, but not everyone is happy about it.
In the eastern Kentucky coal town of McAndrews, any plans to celebrate were tempered by the uncertain fate of 13 miners facing suspension during the bitter labor dispute.
Pittston President Michael Odom, who announced the return to work, says most of the United Mine Workers in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky will be back on their jobs by Monday. The first shifts begin Thursday night.
″We’re going to go about the business now of mining coal,″ UMW Vice President Cecil Roberts said Tuesday during a news conference to announce that the contract, replacing an agreement that expired in February 1988, was ratified by 63-37 percent.
The miners got the job security and health and retirement provisions they sought, and Pittston won the right to operate round-the-clock, with voluntary labor Sunday morning and afternoon.
Now the UMW leadership must turn its attention to Circuit Judge Donald McGlothlin, who rejected a request by union and company attorneys to drop $64 million in fines against the UMW but gave them until Thursday to try to change his mind.
Still on the minds of many was the fate of 13 miners the union expects Pittston to suspend for alleged misconduct during the strike.
Members of Local 5737 at McAndrews campaigned to defeat the contract because it failed to guarantee the miners’ jobs.
Many miners had expected the local to handily defeat the contract as a statement of union solidarity for the 13.
Afterward, some spoke bitterly about the local’s rejection of the agreement in a 96-93 vote.
″To me, it’s the end of the union,″ said Ann Osborne, wife of a striking miner. ″I still say a man who voted yes on that contract is no better than a scab ... .″
Jack Clevenger Jr., a retired miner, said those who voted for the contract ″were independent people voting for themselves.″
The contract’s approval probably will cause tension in the local, and he expected ″it’s going to take time to heal it.″
The specific allegations against the 13 miners would be detailed after contract ratification, said Glenn Stanley, the local’s president. The cases then would be turned over to an arbitrator for settlement.
The Pittston dispute was marred by sporadic violence, but Roberts said: ″We all learned some lessons from this strike; it’s better to talk than to fight.″
Roberts and Odom agreed it will take some time for the harsh feelings between the union and company to heal, but both predicted the animosity will be short-lived.
″A lot of times two tough kids on the block have a fight and become the best of friends afterward,″ Odom said.
Odom declined to predict how long it would take to get back to full production, but he noted the union employees were enthusiastic as strikers and will be enthusiastic as workers.
″Everyone seems really happy to go back to work,″ said Roger Caldwell, a field representative for the UMW in Logan, W.Va. ″Overall it’s a contract they can live with.″
In eastern Kentucky, residents and business owners in Pike County were happy the strike was ending.
″Everybody’s just tickled that it’s over,″ said Eva Ryan, who operates a motel in Toler near the Kentucky-West Virginia border. ″Everybody’s for the miners. We want them to get what they want.″
Logan County in West Virginia has been the focus of most strike-related violence since about 300 miners walked off the job at Pittston there.
″When the mining industry gets sick, Logan County gets pneumonia,″ said Mark Spurlock, a Logan County commissioner. ″We’re overjoyed that it’s been settled, apparently with a contract that’s well thought of by the miners.″