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Sanders, Warren Demand BlackRock Intervene in Coal Strike for Fair Contract

Warrior Met workers have been on strike for nearly 10 months, protesting concessions made in 2016 contract negotiations.

Hundreds of members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) march to the Manhattan headquarters of BlackRock, the largest shareholder in the mining company Warrior Met Coal, on November 4, 2021, in New York City.

On Thursday, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) sent a letter to the CEO of BlackRock, demanding that the massive financial firm, which owns a large portion of Warrior Met Coal, intervene on behalf of striking mine workers in Alabama.

“We hope you appreciate the kind of conditions that the miners at Warrior Met have experienced. The Warrior Met miners have worked up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week,” the lawmakers wrote to BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, whose firm is Warrior Met’s largest shareholder. “The mines they work in are up to 2,100 feet deep and are extremely dangerous, releasing toxic, flammable and explosive methane gas.”

Warrior Met Coal workers have been on strike since April of 2021, a strike that is potentially the longest in Alabama history; it has gone on so long that many workers have picked up other jobs to support themselves and their families during the strike, Labor Notes found. The 1,100 workers who initially went on strike have had to deal with routine abuse, including Warrior Met personnel hitting picketers with their cars.

The United Mine Workers of America members are hoping to reverse concessions made in contract negotiations in 2016, including a pay cut of $6 an hour, worse benefits and more dangerous working conditions. Currently, the company has offered a raise of only $1.50 per hour over five years and has not budged on restoring health care and pension benefits.

The company is also demanding the ability to fire workers who have engaged in so-called “picket line misconduct” – in essence, any worker who has been vocal on the picket line, including union leaders.

“Basically, they went after all the union officials, strike captains, and people that’s been vocal on the picket line,” miner Brian Seabolt told Labor Notes.

Sanders, Warren and Baldwin called the company’s platform outrageous, pointing out that Warrior Met is making these demands despite making billions and constantly rewarding shareholders with dividends.

“While the extraordinary sacrifices made by the miners saved the company an estimated $1.1 billion over the past 5 years, the executives at Warrior Met and their Wall Street investors made out like bandits,” the letter reads. “Since 2017, Warrior Met has rewarded $1.4 billion in dividends to its wealthy shareholders while handing out bonuses of up to $50,000 to its executives.”

Meanwhile, workers face dismal conditions, and are required to keep the mine operating 24 hours a day, including holidays. The company has violated mine safety regulations at least 40 times since 2016 and fires workers for missing over four days of work.

“In our view, this is precisely the type of corporate greed that the American people are growing increasingly disgusted with,” the lawmakers wrote.

Sanders has gone directly to CEOs of major corporations on labor issues before. Earlier this month, he sent a letter to Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world’s richest men, asking him to compel executives at a steel plant owned by the conglomerate to offer workers a fair agreement.

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