Contract talks between the United Mine Workers of America and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association went past the union's self-imposed 12:01 a.m. negotiating deadline today.
Union officials remained confident that they can win a tentative settlement in time to avoid a strike when the current agreement officially expires March 27.
The union had established today's deadline as the "latest" time it could have a tentative agreement without at least a one-day strike that would be the latest in a series of national UMWA contract walkouts since 1966.
Union officials said they had to have a temporary pact in hand at 12:01 a.m. today in order to give their membership at least 10 days time to ratify the contract.
UMWA coal miners traditionally do not work without an approved contract, which means, as union spokesman Eldon Callen said yesterday, "they are prepared to walk March 27" if no contract is ratified. The union is representing 160,000 miners in the talks.
However, late last night, as both sides began passing complete proposals across the bargaining table, UMWA representatives were saying they believed they could win "timely ratification" of a new contract if bargaining can be finished before Wednesday morning.
UMWA President Sam Church "wants to end this thing without a strike," Callen said. "He believes that would be good for the union, good for the industry."
It was difficult to tell exactly what had slowed the bargaining earlier yesterday, although both sides have contended that the BCOA proposal to change its current pension program has been the sticking point.
The BCOA was pushing to end a multi-employer plan it regards as too expensive and to replace it with company-by-company pension coverage.
The union had opposed that move on the ground it would jeopardize pension benefits for many members.
The talks resumed at 11 o'clock last night after a three-hour recess.