THIS stretch of suburban Pittsburgh - across the street from a
drugstore and shopping mall - is an unusual spot for a picket line.
But there it is: Four coal miners, sitting on lawn chairs, holding
signs, picketing the headquarters of Consol Inc. - the nation's
second-largest coal company.
Passing motorists gawk. It is as if America is just waking up to
the nation's coal strike. The walkout, now in its eighth week, is
likely to drag on for some time. "We're beginning to see a pricing
impact," says Rafael Villagran, a coal-industry analyst with Lehman
Brothers. So far the price hike has been modest: about 5 to 15
percent in the Illinois Basin and northern Appalachian markets,
where the strike is concentrated. If it continues, and "if the
economy gains momentum, and the winter is colder, the impact could
be significantly higher," Mr. Villagran adds.
The strike has been slow in starting, largely because the United
Mine Workers of America (UMWA) are slowly escalating the stakes.
After the contract ran out Feb. 1, a small-scale strike, and a
contract extension with more unsuccessful talks, the union began
pulling its members out May 10.
Job security is main issue
It has expanded the strike five times since then and now has
14,000 of its members in six states on picket lines. That is about
one-third of the union miners employed by companies who are part of
a multi-employer bargaining group called the Bituminous Coal
Operators' Association (BCOA). No talks have been held since the
The main reason the two sides cannot get together on a new
contract is that they cannot agree on the provisions of the old
one. The flash point is job security. For decades, the UMWA has
seen its membership - and its clout - dwindle, partly because the
overall number of miners has fallen and partly because nonunion
operations have grown at the expense of unionized mines. Typically,
large coal companies operate union and nonunion subsidiaries.
The UMWA signed an agreement with the BCOA in 1988. Under it,
employers who opened or expanded a nonunion mine pledged to give
the first three of every five new jobs to laid-off UMWA members.
These provisions are spelled out in Article II of the contract and
were discussed near the end of the talks. UMWA President Richard
Trumka and Consol head B. R. Brown vehemently disagree on what was
"If a company had not signed the contract, regardless of any
common corporate heritage it shared with a signatory company, it
had no obligation to offer any jobs to UMWA miners," Mr. Brown told
reporters in Washington last week. "I understood those provisions
when I negotiated the contract. More importantly, I believe that
Rich Trumka, who is a lawyer by training, understood the provisions
as well. …