The Norfolk and Western Railway, crippled by a two-month-old strike, will try tomorrow to move coal from some of the 220 mines it serves in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio using supervisory personnel as train crews.
"We plan at first to move loaded cars from the mines and then to furnish empty cars to the mines," said Richard F. Dunlap, senior vice president for N&W operations. "our goal is to provide at least 25 percent of normal service to the coal fields and I expect we will make it."
The move will mean that many coal miners in the four-state area, who have been idle since the strike began July 10, can return to work.
The strike was called by the Brotherhood of Railroad and Airline Clerks, which represents about 4,000 of N&W's 24,000 employes. Most other railroad employes, have refused to cross union picket lines.
With the help of supervisors, the railroad has been able to keep some noncoal freight cars running during the strike period. But 40 percent of N&W's normal tonnage come from coal hauling.
"We have been able to train a large number of additional supervisory train and engine crews," Dunlap said. "We now have a sufficient number of them that we are able to free some of our most experienced supervisory crews, who have experience and knowledge of coal field operations, to undertake this service."
Dunlap added no new employees have been hired because of the strike.
Meanwhile, negotiations between the railroad and the union, postponed for the Labor Day weekend, were scheduled to resume in Washington today.
Union President Fred J. Kroll walked out of negotiations last week after claiming that 15 rule changes sought by the carrier would make it easier for the railway to fire employes, change job assignments and reduce overtime.
A spokesman for the railroad said the rules changes are not the heart of the dispute. He cited job protection and expansion of union membership as the key issues.
The N&W, which is based in Roanoke, is the nation's seventh-largest railroad and a profit leader in the industry, with lines connecting the Appalachian coal fields, midwestern industrial centers and East Coast ports. In addition to moving coal, the railroad is also a major mover of auto parts. But some of the economic impact of the strike has been cushioned by the fact that most of the N&W's service areas are covered by other railroads.
However, the strike has had a depressing effect on labor markets in some states. Virginia's unemployment rate this summer, for instance, jumped three-tenths of a percentage point to 5.2 percent, largely as a result of the strike, state officials said.
In all, nearly 25,000 coal miners in Virginia, West Virginia and other parts of the N&W's 14-state system have been laid off because of the railroad's inability to haul coal.
The railroad clerks union is the second largest of 11 unions currently negotiating with the railroads, and has the reputation of being among the most militant in the bunch.