June 25, 2022

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From an Alabama Coal Mine Strike to an Amazon Warehouse

2 min read

BROOKWOOD, Ala. — Braxton Wright is a second-generation coal miner, a die-hard union supporter and, until recently, a staunch Republican. He is named after his uncle, a Korean War veteran, who was fatally crushed between two rail cars while working at the Pullman train factory near Birmingham.

Hard dangerous work is a part of Mr. Wright’s extended family history and that of many people living in this industrial and mining belt of north central Alabama. Next to the coal mine where Mr. Wright works, there is a memorial to the miners who were killed in an underground explosion in September 2001. Every year, on the disaster’s anniversary, a bell tolls once for each of the 13 workers who died.

In agreeing to these dangers, Mr. Wright, 39, says he and his fellow coal miners have come to expect something in return from their employer — respect.

After accepting pay cuts when the coal company emerged from a 2015 bankruptcy, the miners said they expected that their previous wages would be restored to match what other mines paid. The company, Warrior Met Coal, declined to comment for this article. It says on its website that Warrior Met made no such promise and has provided multiple raises in recent years.

On April 1, 2021, Mr. Wright joined about 900 other miners who walked off the job and set up picket lines around the mine’s entrances, demanding that the company raise their wages close to the levels they received before the bankruptcy.

Less than 30 miles away from where the mine sits is the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., a building that encompasses 14 football fields and employs more than 6,000 people. The workers there have recently voted for a second time on whether to form a union.

A previous election last spring ended in a defeat for the union by a wide margin. The most recent results now hinge on a series of disputed ballots that will be reviewed in the coming weeks, but the contest is closer than many anticipated. On Friday, organized labor scored a…

Michael Corkery

2022-04-02 05:00:19

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