With United Mine Workers district elections ended, "serious" coal contract negotiations are under way, and there is guarded optimism that a settlement may bring a nationwide mine strike to an end by June 1, according to Monitor labor correspondent Ed Townsend.
The elections in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania stymied talks to end a deadlock between the UMW and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association.With election campaigns adding to coalfield unrest, both sides were reluctant to bargain on new contract terms to replace a tentative settlement rejected by miners March 31. It was obvious the union could not make concessions without political repercussions in important districts.
The elections were concluded May 12, with setbacks for some candidates favored by the UMW leadership. A day later Sam Church Jr., president of the mine union, and B. R. Brown, chief negotiator for the operators, indicated "a little progress" in intensified talks. Mr. Brown suggested that UMW was being more realistic, which would mean that the union had made some concessions on demands.
Should the walkout by 160,000 miners end within two to three weeks, serious coal shortages would be avoided, but the cost will still be extremely high for both sides: Miners received their last paychecks the first week in April, and losses by operators over the past six weeks are e stimated to total millions of dollars each day.