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Mechanization Agreement

The National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1950 between the United Mine Workers of America and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association is referred to as the Mechanization Agreement since it authorized extensive mechanization in union coal mines.

Mechanization had been increasing in the mines since the 1920s, but it was in the late 1940s that the United Mine Workers decided to actively encourage mechanization as a way to reorganize the industry. The decision had many ramifications. Mechanization would increase productivity and reduce costs, while forcing the marginal mines to close. Mechanization would strengthen the larger companies and the larger mines, since they had the resources to invest in machinery and the capacity and reserves to use the machinery efficiently.

Mining jobs were lost with the increased use of machines and the closing of inefficient mines. The strategy of the UMWA was that higher wages and better working conditions could occur only through mine mechanization and the employment trade-off was worth that price. Thus, faced with a declining market for coal from increased use of oil, UMWA President John L. Lewis decided in the late 1940s that the union would use its economic power to reorganize the industry and encourage mechanization. The result would be fewer miners working for higher wages.

Immediately prior to the 1950 agreement, major coal companies representing the steel companies and northern operators came together and formed the BCOA. The UMWA and BCOA then negotiated the 1950 and future contracts based on the understanding that the union would not resist mechanization in exchange for being entitled to a share of the proceeds.

Written by John David


  1. David, John P. "Earnings, Health, Safety, and Welfare of Bituminous Coal Miners Since the Encouragement of Mechanization by the U.M.W.A." Ph.D. diss., West Virginia University, 1972.