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UMWA members ratify new National Bituminous Agreement

date: 
December 20, 2006

Members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA) in a nationwide vote yesterday, with an unprecedented 80 percent voting in favor of the new agreement.

“This is an historic vote for the UMWA,” International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “Never before has a contract been ratified by such a wide margin. I’m humbled that the membership saw fit to so strongly endorse our efforts at the bargaining table.

“In an era when workers in other industries are being confronted with significant cuts in health care benefits and pension benefits–if they can hang onto those benefits at all–this agreement represents a significant departure from that trend,” Roberts said. “There are no concessions, no givebacks in this agreement. There are only gains for current members, retirees and their families.”

The agreement will, at the outset, be between the UMWA and Consol Energy, which is the only company currently in the BCOA. The union will present the agreement to the other coal companies between now and mid-January.

“This agreement is going to be the industry-wide agreement, as far as the UMWA is concerned,” Roberts said. “That’s our message to the other companies. It is a fair agreement for our members, and we believe it is fair for the companies as well. The level of support the members gave the agreement with their ratification vote speaks for itself, and we hope that the other companies are listening.

“We’re going to give the other coal companies an opportunity to sign this agreement through the middle of January,” Roberts said. “Hopefully they will do that. But if they don’t, the union will make a determination at that time as to what action we will take.

“Miners at companies which have not yet signed the agreement will report to work on January 2nd and will continue to work until told otherwise by the International Union,” Roberts said, noting that under federal labor law the terms and conditions of the national contract negotiated in 2002 will continue in full force and effect until a new agreement is reached with those companies.

Details of the newly ratified agreement:

The new five-year agreement calls for a 20 percent across-the-board increase in wages over the life of the agreement, and a $1,000 bonus to be paid immediately. When wage roll-ups and other improvements in the contract are factored in, the overall hourly cost of this agreement will increase by 32% percent.

“This is the largest wage increase we’ve negotiated since 1974,” Roberts said. “It’s front-loaded, so members will see an immediate benefit in their paycheck. Over the life of the agreement, a miner working at the top rate will see over $32,000 more in his paycheck for just working straight time.”

Underground miners working at the top rate will be earning $24.42 per hour in the final year of the contract. The training rate for new miners will be $22.77 per hour in the last year of the agreement.

Pensions for future retirees will be increased by $10 per month, per year of service over the life of the agreement, and pensions for current retirees have been raised as well. “A miner who retires with 30 years of service at the end of the term of this agreement will see almost a $600 per month increase in his pension check,” Roberts said.

The BCOA also agreed to increase contributions to the UMWA 1974 Pension Fund over the life of the agreement. By the end of the agreement in 2011, the companies will have made over $500 million in contributions to the pension plan. The 1974 Pension Plan currently has $6.2 billion in funds.

Even though the agreement is initially with Consol Energy, other coal companies - like Peabody Energy, Foundation Coal Company, Jim Walter Resources and others - will be bound by the pension improvements and pension contribution rates included in the new agreement because they are part of the UMWA Health and Retirement Funds, which includes the UMWA 1974 Pension Fund.

The union preserved full health care benefits for active and retired members and their dependents, with no increase in co-payments. The agreement also eliminates a cap on what retirees who receive health care benefits from their former employers can earn and still receive those benefits.

Improvements were made in other areas of the agreement as well, including an additional day off for members with 19 or more years of service, higher benefits for lost time due to sickness or accidents, improved life insurance benefits and more.

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