Talks between the striking United Mine Workers union and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association recessed yesterday after union negotiators rejected an industry counterproposal on union security and job protection matters.
UMW President Sam Church Jr. said after yesterday's session that he warned the BCOA team that he would send his 39-member bargaining council home "if we didn't get moving a little faster on this thing" -- an action that would ensure prolongation of the strike that began March 27.
However, the UMW's bargaining council is scheduled to meet again this morning, and Church and his top aides are supposed to resume negotiations with the BCOA around noon.
UMW spokesman Eldon Callen said that both sides are now "dealing in packages" as opposed to haggling over individual bargaining issues.
"When you're dealing in packages, it could be settled very quickly," Callen said of the strike that has cut domestic coal production from an average of 16 million tons mined weekly last year at this time to a weekly production of about 8 1/2 million tons since the stike began, according to figures provided by the National Coal Association.
"All Sam is saying is that there is no reason for a holdup, that this thing can be settled in a matter of hours. He's saying: 'You know what we want. We know what you want. Let's settle it,'" Callen said.
However, Callen added: "It's sort of like buying a car.You've checked the tires, checked for dents, checked the engine, and you and the dealer have agreed to fix this and that if you're willing to pay this. . . . But, like any car deal, it can fall through for any number of reasons."
The deal in question concerns the hiring of nonunion subcontractors and the disputed requirement that BCOA firms pay royalty fees to UMW health and welfare funds every time the firms purchase supplemental coal from companies not covered by a BCOA/UMW agreement.
The BCOA wants the right to hire nonunion subcontractors in certain cases, and does not want to pay the royalty fees. The UMW takes the opposing view on both sides, largely because the union's rank and file overwhelmingly rejected an earlier, tentative contract that forgave the royalty payments and that, from their viewpoint, was unacceptably weak on the subcontracting matter.
As usual, BCOA yesterday declined comment on the negotiations.