Coal Negotiations

October 25, 1974

Report Outline
Confrontation Over New Contract
Revival and Reform of the UMW
Future of Coal and the Mine Union
Special Focus

Confrontation Over New Contract

Impact of Possible Strike on American Economy

This is the year of the coal miner, according to Arnold Miller, president of the United Mine Workers of America, representing 120,000 soft coal miners. The energy crisis, rising oil prices and a worldwide steel boom have led to an unprecedented demand for coal. Not since the 1940s, when John L. Lewis played on coal's crucial role in the war effort and the postwar boom, have miners felt so indispensable to their country—and so powerful. As they negotiate a new contract to replace that which expires Nov. 12, they intend to use their newly rediscovered strength. Miller told delegates to the union's convention in December 1973: “These negotiations will be as tough as any the UMWA has ever faced, before, and what comes out of them will determine the future of the union for a long time to come.”

Despite a projected increase in U.S. coal output this year—7 to 8 per cent over the 592 million tons produced in 1973, according to the Bureau of Mines—supply is certain to fall far short of demand for some time to come. Electric utilities, which used 65 per cent of the coal consumed in 1973 to produce half the nation's electricity, and steel mills, which consumed 15 per cent, have been struggling to fill their coal bins. As of Aug. 1, the Federal Power Commission reported, power companies averaged a 79-day supply of coal, down from 90 days the month before. This average figure encompassed an extremely wide spread, however; utilities along the Great Lakes had up to 130 days of coal on hand (they normally stockpile coal in the summer before ice halts barge traffic), while some power plants in the Southeast were down to less than a two-week supply. A 90-to 120-day supply is normally considered adequate.

The steel industry faces a prospect even more serious. The industry's average coal stocks, down to 28 days in mid-August from the normal 45, were further depleted by the five-day closure of the nation's mines Aug. 19–23, called by the union under a contract provision for observing “memorial periods” for members who have died in the mines. A strike of even one or two weeks would close some steel mills; a prolonged stoppage of a month or more would cause disruptions throughout the economy. The auto industry would suffer badly from steel shortages and losses of fuel for coal-fired powerhouses.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Coal Industry
Jun. 17, 2016  Coal Industry's Future
Jun. 24, 2011  Mine Safety
Oct. 05, 2007  Coal's Comeback
Mar. 17, 2006  Coal Mining Safety
Apr. 21, 1978  America's Coal Economy
Oct. 25, 1974  Coal Negotiations
Nov. 19, 1954  Coal in Trouble
Apr. 04, 1952  Coal Supply and European Rearmament
Jan. 22, 1947  Labor Costs and the Future of Coal
Jul. 24, 1935  Stabilization of the Bituminous Coal Industry
Jan. 01, 1929  The Anthracite Coal Situation
Dec. 01, 1928  The Bituminous Coal Situation
Jun. 30, 1927  The Bituminous Coal Strike
Aug. 15, 1925  The Bituminous Coal Problem
Aug. 01, 1925  Strike Emergencies and The President
Jul. 25, 1925  Miners' Wages and the Cost of Anthracite
Unions and Labor-Management Relations
Workplace Safety and Worker's Compensation