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Coal union seeks wage increase, amended agreement for Murray Energy miners

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Coal union seeks wage increase, amended agreement for Murray Energy miners

The United Mine Workers of America is seeking a wage increase for miners employed by subsidiaries of Murray Energy Corp. by reopening a collective bargaining agreement it signed with the companies.

The United Mine Workers of America, or UMWA, notified the Bituminous Coal Operators Association and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service that it wants to reopen the contract to discuss wages, according to a release sent May 20. UMWA International President Cecil Roberts said in the release that the 2,000 active members employed by Murray have not had a pay raise in 3.5 years. He sent a letter to Murray Energy asking to begin bargaining as soon as possible.

Roughly 60% of the union's members voted to ratify the five-year agreement in 2016 amid dozens of coal company bankruptcies. The agreement maintained wage levels and included a wage reopener after three years.

Roberts said the miners saved the company from bankruptcy with the agreement.

"Since that time, their hard work and tremendous productivity have brought Murray back from the financial brink," Roberts said. "Today it is a successful, profitable, expanding company. There really should be no impediments to the two sides sitting down and reaching a fair agreement."

Murray Energy said in a statement that the union employees worked well with management at the five Murray American Energy Inc. mines, "and the mines are performing better than they ever have." The company claimed that 40% of coal-fired power plants have closed since President Barack Obama was elected, leaving the remaining coal producers to compete for market share with lower coal prices and more difficulty maintaining positive cash flows.

The coal producer said it was not accurate to say the union or the hourly employees saved the company from bankruptcy or brought the company back from the brink.

"But, our hourly employees' efforts since December 2013 are greatly appreciated and have significantly contributed to the company's financial survival to date," Murray Energy said in a statement. "And, we will need to work together even harder and more productively as we face the coal-fired plant closings and continuing declining coal markets we are now facing, which are primarily the result of political actions in Washington, D.C., and the continually increasing use of natural gas and federally subsidized windmills and solar panels to generate electricity."