Ahead of Friday Earnings Call, Sanders, Baldwin, and Warren Call on BlackRock to Intervene and End Long-Running Strike
WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 – As 1,100 miners at Warrior Met Coal enter their tenth month on strike for fair wages, health care, and retirement benefits, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Thursday, along with Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Laurence D. Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, demanding the Wall Street giant, which is the largest shareholder in Warrior Met, work to reach an immediate and fair settlement between the miners and the company. BlackRock will at 8:30 a.m. this morning hold an earnings call to discuss the company’s fourth quarter revenue and annual outlook for 2022.
“Workers have been on strike for nearly 10 months, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, going without wages and health insurance,” the senators wrote. “This strike has affected workers and their families, as well as Warrior Met and its shareholders. It is time for the company to come to the table and bargain in good faith to adopt a new collective bargaining agreement. Given BlackRock’s stake in the company and your position within BlackRock, we are asking you to do the right thing.”
Mining remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., and the Warrior Met mines in Alabama are no exception. Running up to 2,100 feet deep, the mines the strikers work in are extremely dangerous, releasing toxic, flammable and explosive methane gas. In 2001, 13 miners at the Brookwood site were killed in a methane explosion. Since 2016, Warrior Met has violated mine safety laws at least 40 times and have been fined over $475,000. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of coal miners suffering from the most severe type of progressive black lung has steadily climbed over the last 20 years, a disease which can lead to lung impairment, disability, and premature death.
The Warrior Met mines run 24 hours per day with the miners working up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, including every holiday except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas. Jeopardizing their own health and safety, the miners worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, never shutting the mines. Yet workers can face termination for missing more than four days of work.
As part of a 2016 restructuring deal made by private equity firms, the miners at Warrior Met agreed to an across-the-board wage cut of more than 20 percent, and substantial reductions in their health care and retirement benefits. The sacrifices made by the miners saved the company an estimated $1.1 billion over the past five years. Meanwhile, 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.
“In our view, this is precisely the type of corporate greed that the American people are growing increasingly disgusted with,” the senators wrote. “BlackRock and other Wall Street investment funds have got to understand that they cannot have it all. The workers at Warrior Met are the reason that this company has returned to profitability. All they are asking for is a contract that is fair and just.”
Warrior Met’s efforts against their own workers continues to threaten the miners’ constitutional right to strike. The National Labor Relations Board has found merit in unfair labor practice charges filed by UMWA against Warrior Met, and over the past year Warrior Met has incurred nearly $35 million in strike-related expenses.
The miners’ strike comes amidst a wave of worker protests across industries and states, including at least 185 strikes at 255 locations in 2021. Sanders recently rallied in support of striking Kellogg’s workers in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Tennessee; led letters of support for striking steelworkers in West Virginia, Kellogg’s workers, more than 30,000 Kaiser health care workers, and bakery workers in California; and stood in solidarity with workers at John Deere, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Frito-Lay, Teamsters Hunts Point Market workers, GSOCUAW graduate workers at NYU, Churchill Downs, and more.
Read the full letter here.