On September 22, 75 miners at the Co-op underground coal mine were locked out by the company. That day, the company suspended a worker with intent to discharge for refusing to sign a disciplinary slip. This was the third attempt to suspend a worker in several weeks.
The miners halted production and gathered at the bosses office and tried for several hours to negotiate with the company to get the workers job back. The company refused, called the local sheriff, and ordered the miners off the property. The miners were told that everyone was fired and not allowed back to work.
For several weeks before the lockout, the miners had been in contact with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and were having meetings to organize a union. They were responding to unsafe job conditions, low pay, lack of pension and health-care benefits, and abusive treatment by the bosses.
The company began threatening and suspending workers in an attempt to intimidate them. At one point the company threatened to bring in the immigration police. Most of the miners are originally from Sinaloa state in west-central Mexico.
Lou Shelley, president of UMWA Local 1769, led a delegation of the locals officers to the picket line on October 16. The 250 members of this local work at a large underground coal mine, Deer Creek, just a few miles from the Co-op mine. They asked the workers on the picket line what kind of food and other assistance was needed because they were going to begin a food drive. A few hours after leaving, they came back with food and sodas for the pickets. They reported to the Co-op miners that Local 1769 members were making contributions by payroll deductions out of their paychecks.
Later that day, six other Local 1769 members visited the picket line. They told the picketing workers that they had just come from their local union meeting, where this fight had been one of the top items on their agenda.
The miners said the local had voted to contribute $500 and was organizing local members to come to the picket line on a regular basis. Two members of the Local 1769 delegation were Mexican-born workers and were able to help translate the lively discussion that took place among the miners.
Weve got to do something about this
That same week, another worker, Ernie Herrera, a former union miner who had worked for 23 years at the nearby Hiawatha mine until it closed, came to the picket line on his own. He got out of his car and exclaimed, Im proud of you guys. Everyone knows the Kingstons have been abusing the people at this mine for years. They think theyre above the law. Weve got to do something about this. And now you have the will to stand up!
This visible support from other workers has been important in strengthening the fight, as the company tries to step up the pressure. Picketing began on October 3. For more than a week, workers reported, no coal trucks were coming out of the mine. On the afternoon of October 17, pickets reported that coal trucks had started going in and out of the mine. The trucks were from a company in Huntington, Utah.
Two workers from the union-organizing battle at the Co-op mine were invited to speak at a meeting of UMWA Local 9959, where they received a donation of $1,000. This local is made up of 52 workers at the local landfill near the town of East Carbon, Utah. Members of the local also said they would collect winter jackets for the pickets and organize a delegation to visit the picket line.
Immigrant Miners Take on Kingstons
The union fight here was one of the front-page stories in the Sunday, October 12, issue of the Salt Lake Tribune. Immigrant Miners Take on the Kingstons was the headline of a lengthy article that interviewed several union supporters. While having three young children at home made it difficult for [Celso] Panduro to stop working, he says he had to because I couldnt close my eyes anymore. The day we united against the owners, it was because we had hit a wall. Every time we had asked for better working conditions they told us to keep our heads down and keep working or we could be out the door, the paper reported.
Miners report that the UMWA sent a letter to Co-op asking the company to begin negotiations to get the miners back to work, and that on October 15 the union received a letter signed by Carl Kingston, one of the owners. It said there was already a union at the mine and the workers were represented. Kingston demanded that the UMWA cease and desist from unlawful acts or they would be sued.
At the mine there is a company union. All the officers are mine bosses, workers there reported. There are no union meetings or elections of union officers.
The miners have also begun distributing a fact sheet on their fight at the other mine portals. They said most of the mines they plan to leaflet in Utah are nonunion. There are only two UMWA-organized mines in the state.
They also are beginning to visit local stores and businesses to get contributions and support. A manager of a local convenience store agreed to put a donation box on the counter. She told the miners, I support you guys 100 percent. You can leave the box there all week.
UMWA statement backs embattled Utah miners
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