The union said the agreement, which will take effect July 1, was approved by about 70% of its voting members. It replaces a five-year pact scheduled to expire December 31, 2011.
“Our members will receive the largest pay increase in the 121-year history of our union,” said Cecil Roberts, UMWA president. “In addition, we were able to preserve full health-care benefits for active and retired members and their dependents, as well as preserve pensions for current and future retirees with no cuts in benefits.”
Under the new accord, miners get $1/hour increases—on July 1 and January 1, 2012. Then, wages go up by an additional $1/hour on January 1 of each successive year. Pension contributions of $5.50/hour for every hour a miner works also were retained.
Only the approximately 3,000 union employees of CONSOL Energy are affected by the entire contract, according to union spokesman Phil Smith. Other coal companies that employ some 7,000 UMWA miners, including Alpha Natural Resources, Patriot Coal, Drummond, Jim Walters and Cliffs Natural Resources, are bound only by the pension provisions. Smith said the union will have to bargain with them separately on wages, pensions and other benefits. That process was expected to get under way in July.
In a statement, Pittsburgh, Pa.-based CONSOL said it viewed the new accord “as an ordinary course contract for CONSOL, and in line with our expectations.”
Against the backdrop of this year’s contract talks, the UMWA won an organizing victory May 20 at Peabody Energy’s Willow Lake underground mine near Equality in southern Illinois. It marked the union’s biggest organizing triumph in years in the high-sulfur Illinois Basin where it once was dominant.
Willow Lake has 444 hourly workers that would become members of a new bargaining unit if the vote ultimately is upheld by the National Labor Relations Board. Peabody has appealed to the NLRB’s regional office in St. Louis. Willow Lake controls more than 20 million tons of recoverable high-sulfur reserves.