Coal River Mountain Watch Workers Ratify First Collective Agreement
NAOMA, West Virginia — Workers at Coal River Mountain Watch have ratified their first union contract in a unanimous vote.
The 2-year contract, which takes effect Feb 1, 2022, includes a raise for union members, an assurance of at least one month notification to members in the event of layoffs (something that wasn't previously done when funding ended), a process to ensure that travel costs are paid for upfront by the employer for speaking engagements, and job duties clarifications.
Coal River Mountain Watch is a small but respected organization in the southern coalfields, created in 1998 in response to the fear and frustration of people living near or downstream from enormous mountaintop removal sites. From humble beginnings as a small group of volunteers working to organize Southern WV residents to fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, the nonprofit has become a major force in opposition to mountaintop removal.
Workers at non-profits like Coal River Mountain Watch risk their physical and mental safety in the course of doing their job, and they deserve to have a say in how these organizations are run. Even when there may be general agreement around most issues in the workplace between employees and management, negotiating a contract allows workers an opportunity to learn how to function and operate as a union.
“I’m beyond proud to be in a union now, and I’m beyond proud to work for an organization that values my rights as a worker. Here’s to a brighter future for West Virginia and the brave souls who try to make it a better place to live.” — Junior Walk, Coal River Mountain Watch staff member
“I was really happy with how this process turned out. Vernon, the Executive Director, was quick to respond to our requests for information and in only three bargaining sessions, totalling less than five hours altogether, we had a solid draft contract. It signifies to other employers in progressive organizations that this process does not have to be complicated and that unionizing can have significant benefits for an organization's long-term missions.” — Brendan Muckian-Bates, Industrial Workers of the World Organizer
“I think it's really important, after OVEC's stalling to negotiate with the union and ultimately dissolving, that the Coal River Mountain Watch Board voluntarily recognized the union and that Vernon was so quick to respond to the union's requests. Coal River Mountain Watch is highly regarded among many progressive and environmental activists both inside and outside Appalachia. They've been the targets of the coal industry's ire for decades, with employees sometimes having to fear for their life because of this work. However, with this organization now unionized, I think it speaks to the need for all non-profits to formally recognize and negotiate with their staff's union when one is presented. Many workers at these non-profits risk their physical and mental safety to continue to do this work, and they deserve to have a say in how these organizations are run.” — Brendan Muckian-Bates, Industrial Workers of the World Organizer
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a labor union representing nearly 9,000 workers across North America. Established in 1905, the IWW is known for its high standards of democracy, transparency, multinationalism, and active use of the right to strike.