UMWA Members Ratify New Contract for Murray Mines

WHEELING — As hundreds of local Murray Energy coal miners wait to learn whether they’ll still have jobs next month, United Mine Workers of America members working for the St. Clairsville-based coal producer ratified a new collective bargaining agreement.

According to information provided by the UMWA, 60.3 percent of union members voted in favor of the new contract with the Bituminous Coal Operators of America. The deal, which runs through 2021, covers five northern West Virginia mines. Murray’s union Powhatan No. 6 mine is expected to shut down later this year.

The current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the year. Union members had turned down a previous contract proposal on June 28.

The new agreement locks in wages at current levels but provides for renewed negotiations after three years.

Active and retired union members will see slight increases in out-of-pocket health care costs, but no monthly premiums.

Total annual days off are initially reduced under the agreement, but many of those days are regained over the life of the contract, according to UMWA officials. Murray Energy also agreed to remain in the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan.

“This was a tough vote for our members to take,” UMWA International President Cecil Roberts said Friday in a press release. “The coal industry is in a depression and more than 50 companies have filed for bankruptcy in the last few years. Thousands have been laid off. The pressures on those who are still working are tremendous and growing.

“But despite all that, our members took a courageous stand by voting to try to keep their company operating while maintaining the best wages, benefits and working conditions in the American coal industry,” Roberts continued.

Murray Energy officials said late Friday they were pleased with the union’s vote.

“This is a good day for Murray American’s UMWA-represented employees, as this agreement will go a long way toward ensuring that our coal mines can keep operating, and our employees working, even in the current depressed coal marketplace,” said Murray Energy CEO Robert E. Murray, who also serves as chairman of the Bituminous Coal Operators of America.

Union members and the BCOA announced they had reached a tentative contract agreement on June 24. But four days later, UMWA members voted down the proposed contract, details of which were not released.

On July 1, three days after the union rejected the original deal, Murray Energy issued Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notices to 4,400 workers across its operations in six states — including about 1,600 total at the Ohio County Mine and Marshall County Mine, both union mines, as well as the non-union Century Mine near Beallsville.

Federal law requires companies to give at least 60 days’ notice of potential mass layoffs, and Murray officials have said there are no concrete plans to move forward with the job cuts — which would represent about 80 percent of the company’s total workforce.

Murray officials later said the company was working to avoid bankruptcy — a fate that has befallen several of the nation’s largest coal producers. Company officials have blamed cheap natural gas and the policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama for the sluggish coal market.

Friday’s vote comes after several “contract explanation meetings” between UMWA officials and members, including one Tuesday at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling. Those meetings were open only to active workers, retirees and their spouses.

“In addition to the courage shown by our membership, I want to express my thanks to all those local union, district and international leaders who worked so hard on achieving this agreement,” Roberts said. “They did outstanding work.”

Staff Writer Casey Junkins contributed to this report.