Talks between the two began “last winter” for the new contract, UMWA spokesman Phil Smith confirmed to International Longwall News. The new five-year agreement picks up where the current one leaves off, on January 1, 2007.
“This agreement is the culmination of months of work,” UMWA president Cecil Roberts said in a statement. “There were significant hurdles to overcome, especially in the area of pensions, retiree health care and wages.
“However, the parties were able to overcome those obstacles and hammer out an agreement.”
Smith said he could not elaborate on the “hurdles” of the talks at this time.
He did, however, speak about the recent passage of the Abandoned Mine Land Fund reauthorisation by the US Congress; both he and Roberts noted its importance in bringing the groups to an agreement.
It was almost passed in August of this year, he said, then removed “literally, at the last minute”. Despite attempts to get it attached during the Congressional “lame duck” session, it did end up getting added on again with just a few days remaining.
And while efforts were made to again remove it from the docket, it remained. “The passage of the AML reauthorisation and the funding mechanisms for UMWA retiree health benefits took a tremendous expense for the companies off the bargaining table,” Smith said.
From this point, the tentative agreement will go to a vote by union members in a rank and file ratification process. These will be special local union ratification votes done by secret ballot on December 21, Smith said.
Members will come to a local hall throughout the day and cast ballots. Two days prior on December 19 the UMWA will hold contract explanation meetings to review the details.
Smith said he couldn’t comment on what the new contract will mean to the UMWA and its members, as the ratification vote has not yet commenced. Once it has been completed, the specifics of it will be released publicly.