HARDIN - Workers at the Absaloka coal mine vow to strike around the clock until conditions change.
The unionized workers say they've contended with years of below-average pay and a hostile work environment at the mine, 30 miles east of Hardin. It has been without its 125-member crew since miners walked off at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
Railroad workers honoring the strike left a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train half-loaded with coal at the 15,000-acre, single-pit mine, which is owned by Westmoreland Resources Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Miners had been working without a contract since March. There were months of negotiations before the contract expired.
Monday, more than 60 miners rallied at the Westmoreland entrances. They brought drinks, a gas barbecue grill and floodlights for the night shift. Classic rock 'n' roll, mixed with the occasional shout out to loyal pickets, blared over a public-address system.
Workers say they want better wages and an end to mandatory overtime. They also want a three-year contract, rather than the five-year agreement the company offered.
"We're looking for better treatment, better respect and better pensions," said Conrad Stewart, lead loader hand for crew A at the coal mine. "We want to work with Westmoreland. All we're trying to do is work and make better lives for our families."
Westmoreland Coal Co. issued a statement Monday from D.L. Lobb, the company's chief executive offer and president.
"We continue to be committed to offer fair and reasonable wages and benefits to our Westmoreland Resources Inc. employees and remain optimistic this labor stoppage will be short in duration," Lobb said. "We are committed to our customers during this time and will continue to strive to meet their needs."
The company declined to comment further.
In the mine's 34 years, worker-company relations had never produced a strike, but the relations became strained last year after Westmoreland assumed daily management of the mine, which had previously been operated by a third party - first Morrison Knutson and later Washington Corp.
The Absaloka Mine set a record for its coal extraction last year, shipping 7.4 million tons in rail cars.