The Film

Justice in the Coalfields demonstrates how current labor law crippled the collective bargaining power of unions and weighed the scales of justice against working people. The documentary follows the United Mine Workers strike against the Pittston Coal Company and explores the strike’s social, cultural, and economic impact on coalfield communities.

When the contract between the UMWA and Pittston expired in February 1988, Pittston terminated the medical benefits of 1,500 pensioners, widows, and disabled miners. This violation of a long-standing social contract ignited a communitywide sense of outrage. Justice in the Coalfields documents the events that followed in southwestern Virgina, the heart of the strike and a right-to-work state.

Hundreds of state troopers are seen escorting “replacement workers” through the picket lines. Union members, their families and friends are shown responding with mass civil disobedience resulting in more than 4,000 arrests. State and federal judges reacted with injunctions and fined the UMWA more than $64 million. These events are given context through conversations with the rank and file. Additional perspectives are provided by a federal judge, a public interest lawyer, the coal company president, and the public affairs director of the National Right to Work Committee.

The Filmmaker

  1. Anne Lewis Producer