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Striking coal miner says he's ready to go back to work, if they do us right

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One year ago today, more than a thousand miners walked off their jobs at an Alabama coal mine called Warrior Met Coal. Over the past year, some miners have crossed the picket lines and returned to work. But hundreds have stayed on strike with financial support from their union. Back in 2016, the miners had accepted a cut in pay and benefits. Now they want them restored. Stephan Bisaha of the Gulf States Newsroom brings us some of their voices.

BRIAN KELLY: My name is Brian Kelly. I hope I can describe myself as a loyal union member and third-generation union coal miner in my family.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC AMBIENCE)

KELLY: Yeah. Them were our union high school buddies. They do that every morning and every evening. So right now you're in the heart of traffic to the elementary school and the high school. This is one of our picket lines we got set up. We start out here at 5 in the morning, and we stay out here till 8 in the morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN)

KELLY: I do miss down - being down in the coal mines. It's dark. It's dirty. There's a combination of God knows what kind of chemicals down there that you're breathing in every day that's deteriorating your health. I love it (laughter). It's paradise to me. I love it. I love the coal mines. The family, the brothers and sisters that you're with every day, they're truly your family. You see them more than you see your wives or your kids.

RILY HUGHLETT: Right on time. Come on in. How you doing?

My name's Rily Hughlett. I'm a roof bolter at Warrior Met, which - you know, we're on strike right now, been that way for a year. The coal mining business has blessed us truly, you know? It's a lot of hard work. You sacrifice your physical and mental being to support your family. But it's a good living if you're willing to take the chances. I'll give it to the UMWA. They have stepped up more than I'd suspected that they would in helping all of us through this, you know? I mean, it's not a lot, but it's been close to $2,000 a month they've been given us. That's what's really helped us.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting) U-M.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) W-A.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting) U-M.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) W-A.

JOHNNY MURPHY: Johnny Murphy. And I'm a motorman, underground motorman. This is the strike rally, and they're supporting the strikers. The miners is on strike in Alabama at Warrior Met Coal, and we're here to justify - hey, give us what we deserve. I come here every week if I can - if it's the Lord's will, every week. It strengthens my spirit to see everybody out here, and we're supporting each other. It strengthens the spirit that we have out here, and we need that. Well, right now I'm a little frustrated. I'm ready to go back to work, but I ain't going back unless they do us right, do right by us. My wife is having to pick up extra shifts when she can, but right now COVID has played a major role in her not being able to work as much, either. So we're on the verge of just, you know, probably being in trouble.

Oh, I'm not going across the line, never. I'll never. My daddy was a coal miner, and he'd probably beat the hell out of me before one of these guys out here do. He don't play that scabbing. There's no excuse.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This story comes from the Gulf States Newsroom and Stephan Bisaha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.