UMW contract brings record wage increase

Joe Napsha
| Saturday, June 18, 2011

The United Mine Workers approved a new 5 12-year labor contract that gives unionized bituminous coal miners a $6-an-hour wage increase spread over the life of the pact, the union said on Friday.

The new contract with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association was approved in voting yesterday. The pact takes effect July 1 and replaces the remaining six months of the current five-year deal that was to expire on Dec. 31, the UMW said.

The labor agreement with the coal operators covers about 3,000 employees of Consol Energy Inc. of Cecil and its subsidiaries.

The UMW uses the contract as the model for agreements with other coal producers, which employ another 7,000 miners.

Among those companies that have signed on to the contract are Alpha Natural Resources Inc., which operates the Cumberland and Emerald mines in Greene County.

The wage increase provided in the contract is the largest over the life of a single agreement that the UMW has received in its 121-year history, union President Cecil Roberts said. The agreement "meets all the goals set forth as bargaining priorities," preserving health care benefits and pensions with no cuts, he added.

Under the current agreement, miners are paid an average of about $24 an hour. The new contract gives miners two $1-per-hour increases in the first six months of the agreement, on July 1 and again on Jan. 1, which is an average 8.2 percent increase over current wages. Wages will be increased by $1 per hour on Jan. 1 of each successive year of the agreement.

By the time the contract expires in 2016, the average UMW miner would earn about $30 per hour in wages. The new contract maintains a pension contribution of $5.50 per hour for every hour a miner works.

The union's 1974 pension fund, which receives contributions based on the hours worked by the miners, was classified as on the "seriously endangered status" list in July 2010, according to a letter from the Employee Benefits Security Administration. The plan is likely to have a funding deficit beginning in July 2017, the administration said.

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