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I Survived the Rig Explosion That Caused the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill; This Is What I Saw

By Maximillian Alvarez and Leo Lindner - In These Times, October 7, 2022

It’s been 12 years since the catastrophic explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, killing 11 workers and causing the largest marine oil spill in human history. A lot of forgetting can happen in that time. A lot of cultural amnesia and historical distortion has set in over the past 12 years, whether that came in the form of a years-long PR campaign from British Petroleum (BP), the high-budget Hollywood-ification of the disaster in the 2016 movie starring Mark Wahlberg, or just the general lack of workers’ voices and stories in the media. 

In this episode, we talk with Leo Lindner, who worked for 10 years at the mud company M-I, the last five of which were spent working on the Deepwater Horizon. Leo was on the rig on April 20, 2010, the day of the explosion. We talk to Leo about his life, about moving to and growing up in Louisiana as a kid, working on tugboats and in oil fields, and about the experience of being a worker in the midst of one of the most devastating industrial and environmental disasters of the modern era.

After 18 Months, Striking Warrior Met Miners and Families Hold the Line

By Ericka Wills - Labor Notes, October 7, 2022

A somber bell toll broke the silence outside the West Brookwood Church in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The white-gloved hand of Larry Spencer, International Vice President of Mine Workers (UMWA) District 20, solemnly struck the Miners’ Memorial bell as the names of victims of mine-related deaths were read aloud.

“As we gather this evening for our service, it is appropriate that we remember in the past twelve months over 2021 and 2022 there has been tremendous heartache as the result of mining accidents across this country,” Thomas Wilson, a retired UMWA staff representative, announced from the podium. “Twelve coal miners’ lives have been snuffed out—also, 19 metal and non-metal miners—for a total of 31 fallen miners since we last gathered.”

The annual Miners’ Memorial Service commemorates not only those who left for work in the mines over the past year never to come home again; it also honors the 13 men who died in a series of explosions in Jim Walter Resources Mine No. 5 in Brookwood on September 23, 2001. Standing on the front lawn of the church in the shadows of mine tipples, families reminisced about gathering at the same location on that fateful day in September when they anxiously waited to hear if their loved ones had survived the blasts.

In 2001, the No. 5 mine was owned by Walter Energy. Today it is part of Warrior Met Coal, the company at the center of the UMWA’s 550-day strike, the longest and largest ongoing strike in the United States. As strikers, families, and community members gathered to remember the fallen miners, all were reminded that what is at stake in the Warrior Met strike is, literally, life and death.

Biden’s NLRB Forces Alabama Coal Miners to Pay $13 Million in Damages for Strike

By Daniel Werst - Left Voice, August 18, 2022

The NLRB is imposing a $13 million fine on the UMWA coal miners’ union over a protracted strike in central Alabama. Not just a fine, in fact, but monetary restitution to the company that the strikers are fighting. What explains this profoundly anti-labor decision?

On August 3, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and the Associated Press reported that the subunit of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for Region 10 (much of the South) has ordered the union to pay $13.3 million to Warrior Met Coal.

About 1,000 workers from two mines and two aboveground facilities southwest of Birmingham, Alabama, have been on strike against Warrior Met since April 2021, resisting brutal working conditions. Now the Biden NLRB is demanding the UMWA pay what amounts to $13,000 per striker into the company’s pocket. The government says this is reimbursement for security guards, security cameras, repairs, and production lost because of the strike, plus buses for carrying scabs across picket lines.

This workforce routinely does six-day weeks and 12-hour days. The company operates on Sundays and almost all holidays. A hated company policy fires workers automatically if they miss four days of work in a year, even because of health problems or family emergencies.

Early in the strike, the company offered a raise of $1.50 an hour for 2021 to 2026. Workers retorted that back in 2016 they accepted a $6-an-hour reduction when the company declared bankruptcy and threatened mass layoffs if the workers didn’t “help” shore up its profitability. More than 95 percent of the strikers voted no when the UMWA leadership put up this company offer as a tentative agreement.

The $13.3 million NLRB judgment is more than half of the strike pay distributed to 1,000 strikers in 16 months. The UMWA provides only $350 a week, or $18,000 a year, for miners’ families to live on. The money grab goes to a company that made $146 million in profit for January to March this year and last year paid its CEO $5.7 million.

NLRB demand for UMWA to pay Warrior Met Coal strike costs “outrageous,” threatens American workers’ right to strike

By staff - United Mine Workers Of America, August 3, 2022

The United Mine Workers of America today made it clear that it will vigorously challenge an outrageous assessment of damages made by the National Labor Relations Board Region 10 regarding the UMWA’s 16-month strike against Warrior Met Coal in Alabama.

“This is a slap in the face not just to the workers who are fighting for better jobs at Warrior Met Coal, but to every worker who stands up to their boss anywhere in America,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “There are charges for security, cameras, capital expenditures, buses for transporting scabs across picket lines, and the cost of lost production.

“What is the purpose of a strike if not to impact the operations of the employer, including production,” Roberts asked. “Is it now the policy of the federal government that unions be required to pay a company’s losses as a consequence of their members exercising their rights as working people? This is outrageous and effectively negates workers’ right to strike. It cannot stand.”

The union entered into a settlement agreement in June with NLRB Region 10 regarding charges the company had made about picket line activity in order to save striking members and families from days of hostile questioning by company lawyers. On July 22, the NLRB sent the union a detailed list of damages totaling $13.3 million dollars, more than 33 times the estimated amount NLRB lawyers had initially indicated would be assessed.

Warrior Met has reported millions of dollars in costs it has incurred over the course of the strike. “It appears that Warrior Met wants us to reimburse it for those costs, including costs it incurred before the strike even began,” Roberts said. “What’s extremely troubling here is that the NLRB appears to have taken up the company’s cause without a second thought.

“I want to be clear: Warrior Met Coal instigated this strike and has brutally extended it through its sustained unwillingness to reach a fair and reasonable agreement at the bargaining table,” Roberts said. “We have no intention of paying its costs for doing so. The right to strike in America must be preserved. We will fight this at every level, in every court. We will spend every penny of our resources rather than give in to something like this from the NLRB, Warrior Met or any other entity.”

Building Our New Electric Fleet

By Harold Meyerson - Resistance Committee, May 31, 2022

Today on TAP: In a signal victory last week, an activist group prevailed on a major bus manufacturer to hire its workers from local, historically disadvantaged communities.

In 1997, after a campaign of several years’ duration, the Los Angeles City Council voted to establish the nation’s first living wage ordinance. Under its terms, businesses with which the city had contracted to do its work—for which the city’s taxpayers were footing the bill—were required to pay their employees a specified, decent wage, as well as offering them a modicum of benefits.

The ordinance, and the campaign that pressured the council to enact it, were the brainstorm of Madeline Janis, the attorney who’d founded and led the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). “Taxpayers should not be subsidizing poverty-wage jobs,” Janis argued.

At roughly the same time, in tandem with another progressive community organization, LAANE also persuaded a number of local developers to sign community benefits agreements (CBAs), which obligated those developers to hire local residents—in effect, disproportionately minorities and women—on major construction projects. Previously, such projects were built by a heavily white male workforce that lived nowhere near the city’s center, even as those projects uprooted the self-same minority communities who’d lived and worked there. With the coming of CBAs, minorities began to gain much greater entry to union construction jobs that offered pay and benefits that otherwise would have remained out of reach.

TESTIMONY: Alabama's Warrior Met Coal and Wall Street Greed

By Braxton Wright - Facing South, April 20, 2022

This month marks one year since 1,100 members of the United Mine Workers of America went on strike at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama following the failure of the union and company to agree on a labor contract. The strike continues today.

Warrior Met was created to buy the assets of Walter Energy after that company declared bankruptcy in 2015. A number of hedge funds own shares in Warrior Met, with New York-based BlackRock — the world's largest asset manager — controlling the most, at about 13% at the end of 2021.

Earlier this year, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) held a hearing on Wall Street greed and growing oligarchy in the United States that used Warrior Met as a case study. Sanders invited the CEO of BlackRock to appear at the hearing, along with those from two other hedge funds and Warrior Met, but they all declined to testify.

When Warrior Met was facing bankruptcy, workers agreed to an across-the-board wage cut of 20% along with cuts to their health care and retirement benefits as part of a restructuring deal made by the private equity firms, saving the company an estimated $1.1 billion over the past five years. Since 2017, Warrior Met has paid over $1.5 billion in dividends to its shareholders while paying its CEO over $4 million per year.

"Yet, now that the company has returned to profitability and has seen its stock price skyrocket by 250% during the pandemic, Warrior Met has offered its workers an insulting $1.50 raise over five years and has refused to restore the health care and pension benefits that were taken away from them five years ago," Sanders said in a statement announcing the hearing. "Outrageously and unacceptably, the company has also demanded the power to fire workers who engage in their constitutional right to strike and give seniority to new hires, rather than miners who have given their adult lives to Warrior Met."

Among those who spoke at the hearing was Braxton Wright, a Warrior Met miner and striking UMWA member. He called on lawmakers to support the "Stop Wall Street Looting Act," a measure sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, both Democrats, to help to reform the private equity industry and to give employee compensation higher priority in bankruptcies. This is Wright's written testimony from the hearing.

One day longer. One day stronger. One year later

By Kim Kelly - The Real News, April 13, 2022

It was supposed to be a terrible day. Thousands of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members and supporters were scheduled to convene in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, on the morning of April 6, 2022, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Warrior Met Coal strike. But, much like the coal bosses themselves, the forecast was not cooperating. The weather report, in typical fickle Alabama fashion, had been fluctuating between rain, more rain, and certain waterlogged doom; the union had bought ponchos in bulk to prepare. As UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said before the rally, “A little bad weather isn’t going to slow us down.”

By the time I arrived at Tannehill State Park that morning, I was fully prepared to spend my day stuck in the mud impersonating a drowned rat. I was not surprised to see that the day’s schedule had been moved up in a bid to outrun the rain. The original start time was slated for 11AM, but the rally was already in full swing by 10:30AM. Like all UMWA rallies, this one opened with a prayer, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the crowd hoping (or praying) that the universe would see fit to send us some good luck after all.

Buses were still arriving as speakers took the stage; according to an emailed UMWA press release, at least 1,200 UMWA members and retirees had bused in from Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, and they were joined by union members from across the South. It was a family reunion, with a greater purpose—when the call for solidarity went out, folks listened. They came to pay their respects by the hundreds, traveling across rivers and valleys and up from hills and hollers to be there alongside their afflicted siblings.

Solidarity with Striking Warrior Met Coal Mine Workers

By Kooper Caraway, Larry Prencer, Haedon Wright, Braxton Wright, et. al. - Worker Solidarity, February 22, 2022

Alabama Miners Are Still on Strike After 8 Months

By Nora De La Cour - Jacobin, November 8, 2021

Last week, more than 500 coal mine workers picketed in New York City, joined by a diverse army of other labor movement members and supporters. The mine workers, who extract coal for steel production, are now in the eighth month of their strike against Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama. Their aim is to force Warrior Met to restore the pay, benefits, and schedules they had before their previous employer, Walter Energy, declared bankruptcy and auctioned off its assets in 2016.

On Thursday, the mine workers marched to the headquarters of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and Warrior Met’s biggest shareholder. After the rally, five United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members and the union’s president, Cecil Roberts, sat down in the street and refused to move. The six were handcuffed by the New York Police Department and arrested for their act of civil disobedience.

The striking workers brought their picket to the middle of Manhattan because they have been barred from gathering outside the Brookwood mines. On October 27, a Tuscaloosa County circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping all UMWA picket activity at Warrior Met. The injunction, which has been extended through November 15, blocks strikers from gathering within 300 yards of any mine entrance or exit.

That’s a huge restriction. As Haeden Wright, president of the UMWA auxiliary for two of the striking locals, explained to Jacobin, moving the pickets three football fields back from the mines “could put you on a completely separate road from Warrior Met property.” In in an interview with Jacobin, labor scholar Steve Striffler called the restraining order “an unconstitutional act that effectively takes away the miners’ right to free speech and assembly at the conflict’s most important sites.”

The injunction is the apparent product of an aggressive campaign by Warrior Met to spread the misleading narrative that UMWA members are engaging in violence and vandalism on the picket lines. Labor journalist Kim Kelly reported that Warrior Met hired the public relations firm Sitrick and Company to “neutralize the opposition” and “reframe the debate” around a strike that has garnered local and national support despite embarrassingly insufficient coverage from the corporate media.

Mine Workers from Across Appalachia Arrested Outside BlackRock Headquarters in NYC

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