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Voices of Striking Coal Miners Reverberate Along NYC’s Concrete Canyons

New York, NY – At 30, West Virginian Skyler Yocum has already spent 10 years of his life digging coal out of the unforgiving earth — and he doesn’t like fat cats flush with cash trying to deprive struggling American miners like him and their families out of a decent living. 

Coal miners march along 59th Street in support of striking brothers and sisters at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama.

Yocum was among the hundreds of United Mine Workers of America coal miners — many of them retired men well into their 70s — who marched on the Midtown Manhattan offices of BlackRock, Inc. this week in support of 1,100 union brothers and sisters striking against Warrior Met Coal in Alabama. 

“I don’t like the way the company is walking on us,” Yocum told LaborPress on Thursday, Nov. 4. “We need to stand strong.”

Hard-pressed Miners at Warrior Met Coal have been on strike for more than seven months in an attempt to restore the $6-an-hour pay cuts, increased healthcare costs, loss of overtime pay and paid holidays they conceded to five years ago, in a successful attempt to bail out the then bankrupt coal mine. 

But the execs at Warrior Met Coal refuse to give up a cent. 

The company just reported a net income of $38.4 million for the third quarter — its best haul, by far, since the start of the Covid pandemic. 

BlackRock, Inc. — the world’s largest asset manager headquartered here in New York City — is   Warrior Met’s largest shareholder. 

Earlier this week, Warrior Met CEO Walt Scheller boasted about how the company continues to “execute successfully on our business continuity plans”  and “meet the needs of our valued customers.” 

The UMWA is taking the fight to BlackRock’s doorstep after an Alabama judge, in October, issued an unconstitutional temporary restraining order on strikers, eliminating their free speech rights and freedom of assembly, demanding they abandon their picket lines and at a minimum move them 300 yards from their previous locations.

Rich Sandreth, left the mines 15 years ago, after spending nearly 35 years of his life digging coal. 

“I know what it’s like to be out of work and the pressure to feed your family,” he told LaborPress this week. “[Warrior Met’s] got the scabs in there working. [Our brothers and sisters] lost everything they had — their wages and everything that [the company] took — and they still won’t let them go back to work. They won’t give them a good contract. You have to fight for everything that you get.”

Members of the NYC Coalition of Labor Union Women lend their support to striking coal miners machine on BlackRock, Inc.

Miners marching east on 59th Street carrying “We Are One” placards and “Justice At Warrior Met” banners exchanged pleasantries with NYPD officers posted along the route, thanking them for their service.

Cops later arrested six UMWA members for “disorderly conduct.”

“I’m just an old coal miner [from southwest Virginia] up here to protect and support my  brothers in Alabama,” retired miner Richard Smith told LaborPress. “We’re going to stick together and make sure that they get some kind of contract.”

Retired coal miner Dan Riggs, 71, spent all night on a charted bus from Ohio to support striking UMWA members and their march on BlackRock, Inc.

“I’’m sure that eventually, we’ll get something,” the septuagenarian told LaborPress. “We’ll stay one day longer then them. We’ll fight.”

Michelle Keller, president of the New York City Coalition of Labor Union Women, stood outside the entrance to Central Park at 59th Street and 5th Avenue, where members of UNITE HERE and SAG-AFTRA also assembled ahead of the march, and talked about the power of community. 

“Where there is community there is strength,” Keller told LaborPress. “What Covid did, it gave workers their voice, it really did.  And that’s why you’re finding more and more — union or nonunion, organized or non-organized — they’re having a say about their workspaces. Not only wages and those things pertaining to the pocket book, but those things that involve humanity’s strength. They’re having their say at this time. We’re out here in solidarity with each and every one of these brothers and sisters.”

— Steve Wishnia contributed to this article. 

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