In 1987, the Pittston Coal Company withdrew from the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, which had traditionally negotiated union contracts for the coal industry. Pittston then implemented a number of work changes after the existing contract between it and union miners expired. On April 5, 1989, 500 West Virginia miners joined 1,200 miners in Virginia and Kentucky on strike, refusing to work after contract negotiations broke down between Pittston and the United Mine Workers of America.
Pittston responded by securing injunctions against the union and attempting to bring in nonunion miners. The strikers used picketing and sit-down demonstrations, and donned camouflage apparel to demonstrate their militancy and solidarity. Cecil Roberts, then vice president of the United Mine Workers of America and a native of Kanawha County, was the central union figure in the strike zone. Tension between striking miners, company guards, and state police ran high. More than 500 miners were arrested during the strike.
Although the strike’s decisive events happened out of state, West Virginia miners supported the effort in a number of ways. In Logan County, the UMWA set up a ‘‘Camp Solidarity’’ for the purpose of housing UMWA members and other labor activists sympathetic to the miners’ cause. On June 6, 1989, around 60 miners embarked on a four-day march from Logan County to Charleston, retracing the path of the 1921 Armed March on Logan. On June 10, thousands rallied in the state capital and listened to speeches by UMWA President Richard Trumka, activist Jesse Jackson, and Governor Gaston Caperton, who called for cooperation between business and labor. Another rally was held on Labor Day in Welch. Around 4,000 miners and relatives heard speeches by Caperton and Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
The most dramatic turn of the strike came in September 1989 when union miners seized Pittston’s central processing plant in Virginia, the Moss No. 3 plant. The seizure, organized by the UMWA leadership, was intended to halt coal production. The strikers occupied the plant from September 17 to September 20 without any serious incidents of violence.
The seizure of Moss No. 3 garnered the attention of the federal government. In October, Elizabeth Dole, U.S. Secretary of Labor, visited the strike zone. She met with both sides and appointed former labor secretary William J. Usery Jr. as a special mediator. After months of negotiations, a settlement was announced January 1, 1990.
This Article was written by C. Belmont Keeney
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Brisbin, Richard A. A Strike Like No Other Strike: Law and Resistance during the Pittston Coal Strike of 1989-1990. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
Sessions, Jim. "Singing across Dark Spaces: The Union/Community Takeover of Pittston's Moss 3 Plant," in Stephen L. Fisher, ed, Fighting Back in Appalachia: Traditions of Resistance and Change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.
Cite This Article
Keeney, C. Belmont "Pittston Strike." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 October 2010. Web. 27 April 2017.