BY DAN FEIN
WINDOW ROCK, Arizona - After eight days on strike, union coal miners here won a victory, gaining a new contract with Pittsburgh and Midway (P&M) Coal Mining Co. that preserves the eight-hour day and makes other gains. Members of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local 1332, most of whom are Navajos, began the strike at midnight May 5 after voting 214- 55 to reject a company offer. The new contract was approved by a vote of 199 to 13.
Miners at P&M's McKinley surface mine here extracted more than 8 million tons of coal from the 27,000-acre mine last year. Half of the mine is located on the Navajo Nation.
P&M wanted to introduce a new work schedule of four 10- hour days Monday through Thursday at straight time; and force some "weekend warriors" to work for 10 hours on Friday, 12 hours on Saturday, and 12 hours on Sunday at 50 hours' pay. No one crossed the picket line during the strike.
Lawrence Oliver, president of Local 1332, told the Militant in an interview that "the 80 percent rejection of the company's alternative work schedule was motivated by members wanting to keep the eight-hour day with weekends off. However, some miners liked the idea of three or four days off work." Oliver explained the eight-hour day was a safety issue, as well as a question of having a life outside of work. "Many of our members operate heavy earth-moving equipment and will experience more back injuries by working longer hours," he said.
The new five-year contract allows the company to ask for volunteers for weekend work. With business booming, P&M's McKinley mine began running coal on some Saturdays over the past year by asking for volunteers who get time-and-a-half pay. No coal was run on Sundays. The new contract allows volunteer overtime on the weekends with time-and-a-half for Saturday work and double-time for Sunday work.
"The unions fought hard for the eight-hour day," Oliver commented. "Anything more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week must be at premium pay. We refuse to go back to the 1930s."
The other main issue in the strike was over pensions. The new contract increases pension payments 30 percent for retired miners. Before, some miners in their 70s remained on the job because the pension was so small. Oliver said the new contract will allow them and others over 65 years old to now retire with dignity.
The new contract also includes an across-the-board 30- cents-per-hour raise per year and a reduction in the probation eriod for new hires from 45 to 30 days.
The union wanted a Training and Education Fund whereby the company paid for schooling for active miners, their dependents, and those laid-off. This was omitted from the final contract.
A "Labor-Management Positive Change Program" similar to that included in the 1993 National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement was incorporated into the new contract. UMWA International Secretary-Treasurer Jerry Jones, who negotiated for the union, said in the March-April United Mine Workers Journal that this set up "empowers our members and gives them a stronger voice to keep their mines competitive ..."
Oliver said the union introduced its version of a labor- management committee in order to avoid the company's proposal.
Although the strike lasted only 9 days, (an article in issue no. 20 of the Militant mistakenly reported that the union had returned to work after 3 days on strike) many unions called to offer support including Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers locals, nearby UMWA locals and the teachers union in Gallup, New Mexico.
Train crews at Gallup, New Mexico's Santa Fe facility were affected by the strike - they usually load two trains per day at the P&M McKinley mine. One conductor, a member of the United Transportation Union, told this reporter he was glad to see the miners stand up to the company.
Dan Fein is a member of the United Transportation Union
local 1416 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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