You can’t promise the people better wages and benefits because they already have better wages and benefits,” [Bob] Wright said. “So, you have to try to sell them job security. You have to get them to understand that a handbook is not the same thing as a binding contract, that what the company gives you in one handbook it can take away in another.
“Powder River Basin Mines Try To Best Union At Benefits Game,” Warren Brown, The Washington Post, 1 July, 1981, Section A2
Wright, a United Mine Workers organizer in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, explained to The Washington Post the difficulties of attempting to organize coal miners working in Wyoming’s huge surface mines, who were paid an average of a dollar or two an hour more than their unionized counterparts.
After the 1977-78 national coal strike, where the United Mine Workers membership rejected several versions of a nationwide contract between the UMW and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association before finally ratifying an agreement, America’s coal companies began mining a larger and larger percentage of coal in the western surface mines of Wyoming, where the UMW lacked support. As Bob Wright pointed out, many of the Wyoming miners were midwestern transplants who had moved west in the midst of the deep recession of the early 1980s. The coal companies could afford to pay these miners better wages and offer decent benefits because they weren’t tied to union contract conditions such as the tradition of keeping Sundays a holiday. The UMW eventually conceded Sundays off, among other givebacks, in negotiations later that decade.