An Inter-Union Labor Struggle

An Inter-Union Labor Struggle

Will the entrance of labor into industry as an employer compel a reexamination of union policies? 


Will the entrance of labor into industry as an employer compel a reexamination of union policies? This is suggested by the controversy between John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers of America, and Warren S. Stone, head of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, in regard to the Coal River Colleries, a company owned by Mr. Stone and other  members of the brotherhood as individuals. In order that our readers might have the facts and principles involved, The Nation invited both Mr. Lewis and Mr. Stone to give their versions. A joint committee is now trying to draw up a program acceptable to both sides.

A Union’s Non-Union Mines
By John L. Lewis

The astounding policy of Coal River Collieries in refusing to employ union miners at union wages is the outstanding scandal of the trade-union and industrial world. Coal River Collieries is a coal-producing company owned exclusively by members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Warren S. Stone, president of the Brotherhood, is chairman of the board of directors of Coal River Collieries, and as such he is responsible for the labor policy of the company. Mr. Stone insists upon acceptance by the miners of a rate of wages that would not only further impoverish those workers but would demoralize the entire coal industry. The United Mine Workers of America will not stand any such thing.

In a joint conference of miners and operators from the central competitive field, composed of western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, held in Jacksonville, Florida, in February, 1924, an agreement was reached which extended the then existing wage agreement until April 1, 1927. Immediately, Coal River Collieries, whose mines are in the non-union territory of southern West Virginia and northeastern Kentucky, joined with the non-union coal companies in an assault upon the Jacksonville agreement. Up to that time Coal River Collieries had employed union miners and paid the union scale in the West Virginia mines, but had operated its Kentucky mine non-union. The latter mine is still being operated non-union.

Mr. Stone, like other non-union operators, demanded that his employees take a reduction in wages. The United Mine Workers of America refused. Mr. Stone closed down his West Virginia mines rather than pay the union scale. He threw hundreds of men out of work, knowing that unemployment meant starvation and suffering for their families. Next, Coal River Collieries imported strike-breakers from the non-union fields of Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama to take the places of the union miners. Then the union miners were evicted from their homes. Their families and belongings were thrown out upon the roadside or hillside in the dead of winter, with no place t o go. One hundred and three families were thus evicted last month, when the weather in the West Virginia mountains was bitter cold. The company refuses to permit these union miners to work in its mines unless they accept the reduced scale of wages.

As a result of these evictions the United Mine Workers of America has been compelled to spend scores of thousands of dollars in building houses and barracks for these unfortunate families and in supplying them with food, clothing, fuel, medical attention, and other necessities. This union these men that have died since this thing happened.

The United Mine Workers of America has made not only repeated but continuous efforts to adjust this matter with Mr. Stone and his company, but it has met with the same identical refusals and opposition that it has many times experienced with cold-blooded, hard-boiled non-union coal companies.

There is no merit in Mr. Stone’s statement that Coal River Collieries cannot pay the union scale. Other coal companies pay the union scale, many of them less fortunately situated than Coal River Collieries. Only non-union coal operators refuse to pay the union scale of wages. Efficient, business-like management and operation will enable any coal company easily to pay union wages and make money.

It is well, in this connection, to point out the recent action of the great non-union coal and coke companies of the Connellsville, Pa., field. That field is wholly unorganized. Following the nation-wide strike of 1922, however, in which these unorganized miners participated, these companies adopted practically the union scale of wages. During the year 1924 they cut the wages of their employees 30 to 50 per cent. Last month all of these independent companies announced that they would restore the old scale on January 1. In other words, they increased the wages 30 to 50 per cent, and this happened at a time when Coal River Collieries and other non-union companies were crying loudest for a reduction. These companies of the Connellsville field are active competitors of Coal River Collieries and other non-union companies for the sale of their coal in the open market. By their voluntary action in increasing wages they admitted that they could pay practically the union scale and compete for business. Coal River Collieries could do the same if it would.

It is extraordinary, indeed, that Mr. Stone, professing to be a trade unionist, casts aside the fundamental principles of trade unionism by refusing to negotiate a contract with the miners’ union. He has discarded the principle of collective bargaining, upon which the entire structure of trade unionism rests, and has adopted the methods that have made non-union coal-fields a menace to organized labor for many years.

Mr. Stone’s Side

In response to an invitation from The Nation to explain his side of the controversy over the Coal River Collieries Company, Warren S. Stone, chairman of the board of directors, has forwarded some statements published in the Right-o’-Way (the newspaper of the stockholders) which indicate his position. In the November issue of the Right-o’-Way has paid the undertakers’ bills for burying the children of Mr. Stone has a signed statement in which he says:

288 Nation On March 31, 1923, 38 per cent of the district tonnage was mined at union mines and 65 per cent at “open-shop” mines. This condition continued until April 1,1924. There being no renewal of contracts on this date, all mines in the district producing coal from April 1 to October 18, 1924, were on the open-shop plan. One hundred and seventeen mines were operating on this basis on September 25, 1924.

From a percentage standpoint the district, on December l, 1924, was divided as follows: 6.7 per cent union; 94.3 per cent open-shop. These percentages were arrived at by the published rating of the mines in the district. If southern West Virginia was considered as a whole, the union tonnage would amount to less than one-half of 1 per cent.

Previous to December 1, 1924, only one large mine and a few small mines were successful in making an agreement with the union, at a modification of the Jacksonville scale, which was of material benefit to the operators. No such concession was offered to us. It was “Sign the Jacksonville agreement with all that it demands or fight!” We put into effect the cooperative plan, the same as we have in our banks. The miners working on the property are stockholders in the property and share in its earnings. We feel sure there are no better satisfied men employed anywhere than in the Coal River Collieries.

The inconsistent position of the miners’ union is best shown by the fact that their members are living in houses since last April and have not paid one cent of rent. With but few exceptions they are ready and willing to work in our mines. The miners’ officials refuse to let them do so, under penalty of expulsion, but they can work in the surrounding mines at the same rate or even for a lower rate, and this is approved or at least they have no action taken against them.

Prior to our opening up we requested the United Mine Workers to grant us some relief for reasonable length of time. This they refused to do, so in order to protect the interests of our stockholders we deemed it necessary to get going.

In a signed statement in the Right-o’-Way for October Mr. Stone says:

Mines 3 and 4 were opened on a cooperative basis in the latter part of September, and recently the plan was extended to the Warren S. Mine Number 2, which started operating November 10. This plan of operation will soon be put into effect at Mine Number 1. You are told by the propaganda being put out by the United Mine Workers that our plan is a failure and that we are not shipping any coal. We loaded and shipped over 350 cars of coal in the month of October.

The reports indicate that the employees are heartily in accord with the policy of the Coal River Collieries, and that they are taking stock in the company as soon as they become familiar with the plan of operation. Many of the men have taken as high as five shares of stock, and we feel it is only a matter of a short time when coal will be mined in abundance in the West Virginia field on the cooperative plan. Orders are pouring in every day; in fact, we have more orders on the books now than we can fill for the month of November.

There is no trouble of any kind existing between the company and the employees. The only trouble that has existed at any time was due to the work of professional agitators who were sent into the field to create trouble. The report that the company is employing strike-breakers is untrue—not a single man has been imported.

The report is being circulated that we are employing gunmen and thugs to beat up members of the United Mine Workers’ Union. Not a single gunman has been employed; not a single thug has ever been employed by the Coal River Collieries Company; not a single man has been molested. The only report we have of any one being arrested was of a man who was arrested for violation of the prohibition laws, located somewhere near our camp. The mines are efficiently and economically managed, and complete harmony exists between the officials of the company and the employees.

You also read about the starvation wages that the miners are receiving and that they cannot live. What would some of our members think who are battling tonnage trains with the modern “freight hog” if they were to receive prices paid to these men who cannot live on these “starvation wages”? A check of the pay roll shows that machine operators average $12.50 per day of eight hours; loaders, from $9 to $10.50 per day of eight hours; and as the entries are being driven in, this pay will be materially increased.

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