CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Although these aren’t robust times for the coal industry, most would agree mining is back from the brink of extinction it faced only a few short years ago.
Among those companies is Murray Energy which represents the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, the bargaining unit with a contract for union miners at several northern West Virginia and Ohio coal mines.
The United Mine Workers of America wants to reopen contract talks two years into the current agreement. It’s an option Murray Energy agreed to accept in 2017 after union members agreed to accept deep concessions in the bargaining agreement.
“I urged people to ratify the contract, and they did,” said Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America speaking on MetroNews “Talkline” Thursday.
Rank and file members actually rejected the first contract with Murray. But with Roberts’ strong encouragement, a majority of the rank and file members agreed to take the hit to help keep the company afloat. The contract included a provision to reopen talks in August 2019 as an option. Roberts said it’s an option the union is choosing to exercise.
“The last pay raise these workers had was January 2016 and if we don’t negotiate a pay raise, we’ll be pushing five plus years without any kind of a pay raise,” he said.
Roberts considered reopening talks a point of fairness since the union was willing to settle for far less than they wanted in the original bargaining. Union leaders say the current agreement is an acknowledgement of the difficult position the company was in during the initial talks. Now, Roberts said things are different and with an improved economy and the coal industry at least doing better, the time to talk is at hand.
“They’re in a lot better condition now,” he said. “We gave them a lot of relief in order to stay open. We think fairness dictates we do this.”
In a statement to MetroNews, Murray Energy said it wanted to first of all thank its workers.
“They have worked well with Murray American management, and the mines are performing better than they ever have,” the statement said.
The statement added.
“It is not accurate to state that the UMWA or our hourly employees ‘saved the company
from going into bankruptcy.’ There were many reasons for this. They were a part of it. To also
claim that the workforce brought Murray Energy back from the ‘financial brink’ is also not