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US coal miners reject labor contract with Murray Energy

29 Jun 2016 16:26 (+01:00 GMT)
US coal miners reject labor contract with Murray Energy

Washington, 29 June (Argus) — Members of a coal mining union rejected a new five-year labor contract with US coal producer Murray Energy.

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) voted on 28 June to reject the agreement after having been briefed on the details on 25-26 June. The deal would have taken effect tomorrow.

The rejection is a signal to other coal producers that their own labor negotiations with unionized workers could be difficult. In the past, this contract has been the model for union agreements with other producers east of the Mississippi river.

Utilities and other coal producers fear that union members might reject contract proposals after workers lost health care and retiree benefits during recent bankruptcy proceedings. Some generators worry that a work stoppage could temporarily halt coal deliveries, leaving some power plants short of coal.

Murray said it is "deeply disappointed" in the vote. Its contract with the union expires at the end of 2016. The company will "examine all of its options with regard to this matter."

The rejected collective bargaining agreement was negotiated by UMWA leadership and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, which is made up of Murray subsidiaries in Appalachia that have union employees. Murray has more than 1,500 UMWA-represented employees.

"This is a democratic union. The membership has had their say and I respect their decision," UMWA international president Cecil Roberts said.

He said this is a difficult time in the coal industry with many workers laid off and others facing difficult working conditions. The vote "reflects those difficulties."

The contract would have covered workers at five West Virginia mines — Harrison County (formerly called Robinson Run No. 95), Marion County (Loveridge No. 22), Marshall County (McElroy), Monongalia County (Blacksville No. 2) and Ohio County (Shoemaker). Employees at Ohio Valley Coal, which operates the Powhatan No. 6 mine in Ohio, and Ohio Valley Transloading, also voted on the deal.