Alabama coal miners have spent 20 months on strike The miners have survived more than 600 days on the picket line, thanks to widespread support and anger at their employer, Warrior Met Coal. Even now, neither side seems ready to budge.

Alabama coal miners begin their 20th month on strike

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1139992968/1140040669" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A MART├ŹNEZ, HOST:

All right, how long do you think you could last on strike? A day? Maybe. A month? Tough but doable for a lucky few. What about over a year? About 500 coal miners in Alabama have been on strike for 20 months. Stephan Bisaha of the Gulf States Newsroom reports on how the miners and the company have been able to last this long.

STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: Look, coal mining is a rough gig, but the pay's good. And coal miner Brian Kelly says you build a family underground.

BRIAN KELLY: I used to go to work - this is no kidding - saying, I love my job. Get up every morning - I love my job. I can't believe I got this job.

BISAHA: But that changed in 2016. These mines in Brookwood, Ala., had just gone through bankruptcy. So the company, Warrior Met Coal, cut the miners' pay and benefits. Those days were tough.

KELLY: Nobody's smiling on the porch. It's doom and gloom.

BISAHA: Since then, these mines have been making good money. But the miners' pay and benefits haven't returned to what they were. So the miners have been striking for the last 20 months. But a strong motivation doesn't make up for more than a year and a half without a salary, which makes it surprising Kelly and lots of other miners say they're doing OK.

KELLY: And I know some people probably ain't. But as a whole, I think we're holding out really well.

BISAHA: That's thanks to plenty of support and coordination from the United Mine Workers union. There's a lot going on behind the scenes to keep these miners going, like the union's food pantry. Other unions and supporters have sent checks and supplies to keep the pantry stocked with things like backpacks, canned goods and Christmas presents.

ANTWON MCGHEE: The food pantry is actually to supporting some of our Christmas for our kids. At least I know my kid won't go without Christmas.

BISAHA: Antwon McGhee is one of the striking miners rallying outside a local union hall.

UNIDENTIFIED COAL MINER: (Chanting) We are...

UNIDENTIFIED COAL MINERS: (Chanting) ...Union.

UNIDENTIFIED COAL MINER: (Chanting) We are....

UNIDENTIFIED COAL MINERS: (Chanting) ...Union.

UNIDENTIFIED COAL MINER: (Chanting) U-M...

UNIDENTIFIED COAL MINERS: (Chanting) ...W-A.

UNIDENTIFIED COAL MINER: (Chanting) U-M...

UNIDENTIFIED COAL MINERS: (Chanting) ...W-A.

BISAHA: The miners also come here for another type of support - cash. Over the years, the miners' union dues have funded a war chest meant to get the workers through a strike. Every two weeks, the miners head inside the union hall to pick up their $800 strike checks and share gossip.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Have you talked to Reggie? He doing all right?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah, he working at Piggly Wiggly.

BISAHA: So the other thing to know is that a lot of these miners have side jobs, like at the supermarket Piggly Wiggly. The money is usually nothing close to what they made before the strike, but enough to cover at least some bills for miners like McGhee.

MCGHEE: I have family and friend that has created jobs, such as plumbing jobs and home remodeling, that they could have gotten anybody to do. But they chose me to do it just to make that money.

BISAHA: Now, it's not just the miners who've held out for 600 plus days on strike. It's the company, Warrior Met Coal. Both of its main underground mines are affected by this strike. But one thing keeping Warrior Met going is the high price of steel. The coal from these mines is a key part of making that steel. In fact, steel is in such high demand that Warrior Met made nearly $100 million last quarter. Warrior Met's also been able to find replacement workers, and that includes some formerly striking miners, because 20 months on strike is still a big financial burden. And for the miners that have lasted this long, like McGhee, financial support is only part of it. You also need support from your families, the ones made above and below ground.

MCGHEE: You can go out and make the money, but without that moral and mental support, you know, you can't make it. You got to have your family backing you up and friends to back you up on a strike this long.

BISAHA: So with dug-in, well-supported coal miners on one side and a coal company making millions in profit without them on the other, this 20-month-long strike looks likely to last well into the new year.

For NPR News, I'm Stephan Bisaha in Brookwood, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SWEET ENOUGHS' "MYSTERIOUS RIVER SNAKE")

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.