Union miners will vote March 31 on a tentative contract agreement that will give them much of what they wanted over the next three years. But the necessary approval by a two-thirds majority is by no means certain.
Sam Church Jr., president of the United Mine Workers (UMW), remained confident during the weekend, though, as he campaigned through coalfields for acceptance of a settlement.
The settlement would mean an estimated 35 percent increase in wages and benefits, a contract package more evenly balanced -- and less expensive -- than the 54 percent one in 1974 or the 39 percent gains after the 111-day strike in 1971-72.
Many of UMW's 160,000 members are strongly opposed to the terms. The financial settlement is part of the reason, because the gains under the new agreement would be considerably less than in agreements negotiated in steel and auto industries since the UMW bargained last.
Furthermore, unlike unions in those industries, the UMW does not have a full cost-of-living adjustment formula to keep wages in line with rising prices. Miners contend that they have fallen behind because of inflation.
They are perhaps even angrier at a provision that allows companies to buy and resell coal from nonunion mines without paying royalty fees into the UMW's pension fund, as they have done for 35 years.
Church and other top officers fanned out through the coalfields to sell the contract terms to members. They have run into heavy criticism -- and a barrage of eggs -- in some areas and have heard demands that Church step down as chief UMW negotiator.
Conceding that he had run into "lots of screaming and yelling by miners," Church said the reaction is "like it usually is" from miners, with militants "making a lot of noise" while the big majority of others "rea son things out."