Talking Points

Biden should step up to defend the Alabama coal strike

A United Mine Workers strike in Alabama has entered its third month. About 1,100 workers at two coal mines in the state owned by a company called Warrior Met voted to strike on April 1, over what they viewed as an unfair contract. As William Thornton writes at Alabama Live, the miners gave up a lot during bankruptcy proceedings years ago to keep the mines operating. The mine took a hit during the pandemic as well, but demand (mainly to make steel) has picked back up, and the coal spot price is at its highest level in over a decade. Though coal is certainly doomed over the long term, there is still space for a few more years of work, which could help prop up union pensions and medical benefits.

It seems the Warrior Met management is bent on defeating the workers. In addition to staving off the strike for two months and counting, the union alleges that people affiliated with management have committed vehicular assault on union pickets:

Under the National Labor Relations Act, unions have a right to strike so long as they follow various rules. Assaulting a union picket should be something that triggers an investigation and possible sanctions from the National Labor Relations Board (which oversees union law), but so far there has been no sign of that.

This is an area where President Biden could accomplish a lot just by speaking up. To his credit, he did mildly encourage the union drive at Amazon months ago, but that was always going to be an uphill battle. This time the union already exists, and only wants a fair contract. The risk calculation for Warrior Met would change very quickly if the president was looking over their shoulder and directing a lot of media attention in the process.