By William Thornton
November 9, 2021 - Citing “unlawful, violent and prohibited” behavior by some picketers, a Tuscaloosa County circuit judge has extended a temporary restraining order against the United Mine Workers of America through Nov. 15 in their continued strike against Warrior Met Coal.
Judge James H. Roberts Jr. has also set a hearing for Nov. 15 for both sides to present a plan by which “peaceful picketing may resume, incrementally.” If neither side can agree, Roberts will hear both sides present plans.
Phil Smith, director of communications for the UMWA, said the union continues to believe the restraining order is unconstitutional and plan to appeal the extension to the Alabama Supreme Court.
The original restraining order was set to expire the day Roberts extended it. It prohibits picketing “or other activity” within 300 yards of 12 different locations owned by Warrior Met Coal in Tuscaloosa County, including mines and offices, and prohibits “in any manner interfering with, hindering or obstructing, by threats, intimidation or acts of violence, the conduct and operation of Warrior’s business and supporting activities.”
The action came after Warrior Met Coal said the level of violence taking place along the picket line had “reached a dangerous level” and released several videos of incidents involving damage to cars. About 1,100 union members began the strike April 1, seeking better pay and benefits. Union members have also made allegations of members being struck by cars while picketing.
In a 13-page order, issued Nov. 5, Roberts cited several instances of violence which he said were supported by video evidence and had not been contested by the union. Those violated a preliminary injunction issued back in August allowing limited union picketing along driveways into Warrior Met Coal property, he said.
Roberts said the union had not explained or even suggested that any picketer identified in an affidavit or videos was not a union member or employee “or was, in any manner, an unwelcomed or unauthorized participant in the picketing-related conduct.” In addition, he said the union had offered no proposals for curbing violence, which gave the court “the duty to choose between the inestimable prospect of continued violence in the course of picketing” and the “protection of public safety and civil order.”
Roberts also cited, using video evidence, 10 specific incidents, from Sept 24 through Oct. 19, involving damage to vehicles, sometimes involving picketers wearing masks. In one instance, a man wearing a “Union Thugs” T-shirt slammed a hammer into a parked vehicle belonging to a company contractor. The man was later arrested and charged in the incident.
In another, a driver was hit in the head with a electronic megaphone. In another incident, a picketer hit the window of an SUV. When the driver exited the vehicle, the picketer hit the contract employee, fracturing a bone, according to the order.
Roberts said the order does not keep the union from picketing anywhere other than the prohibited locations.