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Strike set for Alabama coal mines barring late agreement

BROOKWOOD, Ala. (AP) — More than 1,100 workers at two Alabama coal mines and related facilities owned by Warrior Met Coal Inc. will go on strike barring a last-minute labor agreement, the United Mine Workers of America said Wednesday.

Negotiators have not been able to reach a deal on a new contract, and workers will walk off the job Thursday night unless continuing negotiations succeed, said union spokesman Phil Smith.

“We hope that an agreement can be reached, but the company will need to move substantially from where it is now for the union to have reason to take something back to our members for potential ratification,” he said. The union did not release details on a potential contract.

Brookwood-based Warrior Met issued a statement through a publicist late Wednesday saying the company has been working in good faith to reach an agreement as the existing contract was set to expire.

“Throughout negotiations, our sight has remained on the future -– to provide our employees with a competitive package while protecting jobs and the longevity of the Company and its workforce,” said the statement emailed by publicist Erin Vogt on behalf of Warrior Met Coal.

Union officials said a strike would include the company’s No. 4 and No. 7 mines, a preparation plant and a central shop, all located in Tuscaloosa County, a union statement said. Workers sacrificed to bring the company out of the Walter Energy bankruptcy five years ago, President Cecil Roberts said in the statement.

“These productive, professional miners at Warrior Met mined the coal that meant the company could become successful again,” he said. “And Warrior Met has capitalized on their hard work, earning tens of millions in profits for their Wall Street owners. They have even rewarded upper management with bonuses of up to $35,000 in recent weeks.”

Warrior Met, which produces coal that’s used in steel production in Asia, Europe and South America, recently reported a loss of about $35 million for last year compared to net income of $302 million for 2019. Citing uncertainty created by the global pandemic, the company did not release financial guidance for 2021.

“We continue to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 and these other potentially disruptive factors on our business, although we believe that it is premature to speculate on when the economies of the countries in which our customers are located will reopen on a sustained basis” and return to normal demand, the company said in a statement in February.

The global market for metallurgical coal is “rebounding” from the pandemic, Smith said.

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