LOGAN, W. Va. — Thousands of coal miners walked off the job Monday in southern West Virginia and threatened to take their wildcat strike nationwide.
The latest walkout followed a rally Sunday at which United Mine Workers President Richard Trumka urged miners to "rise up and fight back" in support of 1,600 fellow miners who have been striking Pittston Coal Group Inc. operations in West Virginia and Virginia for more than two months.
In the Pittston strike, a judge in Virginia has jailed three union leaders and fined the union more than $3 million for violating a ban on mass picketing.
"They're protesting the excessive fines and the jailing of the three union officers down in Virginia," said Dave Evans, a Pittston miner. "They're going to try to shut down all the union and non-union mines by the end of next week. You'll see a nationwide and Canadian strike--whatever it takes to get this settled."
On Monday, the strike spread throughout UMW District 17, which has 8,000 members in southern West Virginia, and Gary White, president of the West Virginia Coal Assn., estimated that more than 10,000 miners stayed away from work.
Under their 1988 contract, the miners can take a 10-day "memorial period" off the job to call attention to their grievances, but they must give notice beforehand.
Representatives of the coal companies struck on Monday said they were not informed that this would be a 10-day work stoppage.
West Virginia's largest coal field employer, Consolidation Coal, immediately obtained a back-to-work order from U.S. District Judge Dennis Knapp. The order is effective until June 22, when another hearing is scheduled.
The company told the court that when 250 of its 4,000 workers walked out, they violated a 1988 contract that bars strikes, and that the walkout could keep the mines from meeting contracts. The UMW was not represented at the hearing.
The Pittston miners struck April 5 after working more than 14 months without a contract. Pittston had refused to sign the 1988 Bituminous Coal Operators Assn. agreement, the contract that most other coal companies signed.