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On eve of union vote, Utah miners fight firings of UMWA supporters
Press campaign to expose job safety violations by Co-Op bosses
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 68/No. 47December 21, 2004

lead article
On eve of union vote, Utah miners
fight firings of UMWA supporters
Press campaign to expose job safety violations by Co-Op bosses
PRICE, Utah—In the face of company harassment, firings, and attempts to intimidate supporters of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), 21 Co-Op miners gathered at the UMWA hall here December 5. Miners told the press they planned to respond to the company attacks and prepare for the December 16 union representation election. A day earlier, UMWA retirees and Co-Op miners met at the union hall to organize to visit every worker at the Huntington, Utah, coal mine who is eligible to vote prior to the election.
Blast kills 23 coal miners in Kazakhstan mine
Reuters/Valery Kaliev
The Shakhtinskaya coal mine (above) in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia, was scene of massive explosion that killed 23 miners December 5.(See article on page 4.)

“The company would like to blame this fight on a few ‘troublemakers,’ and to have us believe that is the problem,” said Co-Op miner Berthila León. “But we’re fighting for the union because it is what we all believe in. We are fighting to make the conditions in this mine better for everyone.”

The determination of these miners to establish representation by the UMWA remains strong. Co-Op miners said that those who took part in the December 5 meeting represent nearly two-thirds of the 36 miners who are eligible to vote in the union election.

Co-Op miners have been locked in a 14-month battle with the mine owner, C.W. Mining, to win UMWA representation. Miners say that C.W. Mining has imposed on them an outfit run by the bosses called the International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU). This “union” works with the company to discipline workers and maintain super-exploitive conditions at the mine. Most workers at Co-Op are paid $5.50 to $7 an hour, while wages for underground coal miners across the United States average at least $17 per hour.

Workers say they have documented numerous unsafe practices at the mine. These include lack of safety equipment, dangerously long cuts of coal past supported roof, and jobs such as roof bolting done on a piece-rate basis. At a November 29 press conference in front of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) offices in Price, Co-Op miners exposed the company’s safety record and anti-union practices (see box on this page).

Co-Op miners said December 5 they had designated two miners as safety representatives—one underground and one surface miner. Workers will report safety violations or problems to them.

The next morning, the Co-Op bosses held a meeting with both the midnight and day shift miners. Miners said that superintendent Kenny Defa told them, “We know you formed a safety committee.” Defa claimed that according to company policy miners may be disciplined, up to and including being fired, if they report a safety problem to MSHA before reporting it to the company.

After the meeting, head maintenance foreman Cyril Jackson pulled aside Bill Estrada, a leader of the UMWA organizing effort, and gave him a disciplinary “occurrence” because he was part of the delegation of Co-Op miners to the MSHA office on November 29. Miners can get occurrences for various “infractions,” including attendance. A miner can be fired for too many occurrences.

Co-Op miners and their supporters are fighting the bosses’ threats to carry out mass firings of UMWA backers one week before the scheduled union election.

In a November 30 letter to B. Allan Benson, director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 17, Bishop George Niederauer of the Catholic diocese of Salt Lake City, said, “It is my understanding from members of my staff that C.W. Mining managers at the Bear Canyon Mine near Huntington, Utah, have apparently violated the July 1, 2004, settlement between C.W. Mining and the National Labor Relations Board.

“The violations include threats of firing, new and arbitrary production standards, claims that foreign-born miners do not have proper documentation as well as one incident of shoving.

“I respectfully request that you investigate these complaints before the scheduled December 16 election date for union representatives.”  
Company fires more workers
Two days later, the company took another step, acting on its threats to fire union supporters. On December 2 the bosses fired Alyson Kennedy, one of the leaders of the fight for UMWA representation at Co-Op.

Following weeks of harassment, Kennedy filed criminal charges with the Emery County Police on November 28 against Co-Op mine foreman Kevin Petersen, who forcefully shoved her in the foremen’s office. Four days later, Kennedy said she was called into the company office where her immediate supervisor, Cyril Jackson, and mine manager Charles Reynolds informed her she was suspended for three days with intent to fire.

Kennedy, a miner with nearly a decade of underground experience, was told she was working at only 20 percent of the expected level of performance. Kennedy said she was asked to sign off on her discharge papers, which she refused to do.

“We are not being intimidated by the company’s actions,” Kennedy told the press. “The miners meeting on December 5 was one of the most well attended, coming right after another firing and just a few days before the company is threatening mass firings at the mine.”

On December 7, Ricardo Chávez, another leader of the Co-Op miners, was ordered by his boss, Kevin Petersen, to go home two hours prior to the end of his shift. The next morning he was not allowed to work and given three days’ suspension with intent to discharge for allegedly breaking a company safety rule.

Chávez said he had been instructed by crew leader Chelsey Petersen, Kevin Petersen’s daughter, to shovel some coal spillage by a conveyor belt. Chávez works on the surface in the tipple where the coal is sorted and loaded onto coal trucks.

Immediately after he went to the belt and began working, Chávez said, he was spotted by the mine superintendent and an MSHA inspector who said he was not wearing a safety harness.

“The company wants to use this to challenge my vote in the December 16 election,” said Chávez. “They know that we will vote for the UMWA.”

On November 22, mine manager Charles Reynolds gave out individual letters to many of the foreign-born miners at Co-Op. “Federal case law requires an employer to verify the legal working status of any employee that it reasonably suspects may be working illegally,” the letters say. “You must provide C.W. Mining Co., on or before December 9, 2004, valid documentation showing your eligibility to work. Failure to provide such documentation will result in your termination. We must verify that any social security number you provide to us is valid.”

After receiving these letters, the miners pointed out that their status is the same as when the company hired them and worked them for years at minimum wages and under abysmal working conditions at the mine. Miners said the attempt to demand immigration documentation one week before scheduled elections is not even a thinly disguised attempt to dissuade the miners from supporting the UMWA.

“We have to fight to push them back on this,” said Kennedy, referring to the latest firings and the bosses’ threat to follow up with firings of other union supporters. “There is no indication that the bosses are backing off of the December 9 threat. And we do know that what they are threatening is illegal. Supporters of our fight are speaking out and organizing against it.”

The NLRB ruled in July that C.W. Mining fired 75 Co-Op miners illegally on Sept. 22, 2003, and ordered the company to take back all workers the bosses locked out for nearly 10 months because of union activity. Based on this ruling, the company made an unconditional offer to all the strikers to return to work. The settlement, signed by C.W. Mining and the UMWA, specifically states that C.W. Mining “will not threaten to attend meetings or bring immigration officials to meetings where you are engaged in union or other concerted activity.” It says that C.W. Mining will “not discharge, give oral or written warnings to, suspend, or otherwise discriminate against you because you engage in concerted… or other activity on behalf of the United Mine Workers of America.”

On December 2, the UMWA filed a petition with the NLRB urging the board to impose sanctions on C.W. Mining for its unlawful practices leading up to the scheduled December 16 union certification vote. The UMWA brief states: “The Employer has imposed onerous work conditions on, and largely isolated from other workers, the most well-known proponents of the UMWA organizing effort; wrongfully discharged at least one employee in retaliation for his concerted activity; and demanded that its full-time bargaining unit employees provide social security cards or other documents to establish they are legally authorized to work in this country, threatening them with discharge if they do not immediately produce such documentation—all to discourage the employees’ support for and activities on behalf of the UMWA.”

The union is demanding that the NLRB impose injunctive relief to halt further company attacks on workers at Co-Op so the election can go forward according to the earlier rulings of the labor board. Immigration lawyers have volunteered to work with the union to help turn back the illegal moves being taken by the company by threatening mass firings on December 9.

At the December 4 meeting at the UMWA hall in Price, retired miners pledged to join UMWA supporters at Co-Op to visit miners’ homes and solidify backing for the union. Of the six UMWA retirees who attended, five speak English and Spanish. The majority of the Co-Op miners were born in Mexico.

The miners said they are discussing with fellow workers why safety in the mines is one of the important reasons for voting UMWA. “The retired miners can help explain what it is like to work with a union,” said one of the Co-Op miners, “and what it means to have the right to control safety at work, to have a safety committee with our representatives on it.”  
Mine owners challenge NLRB rulings
Meanwhile, the Kingstons, the capitalist family that owns the Co-Op Mine, made good on their pledge to challenge the workers’ right to vote for a union at their mine. On November 30, two days before the deadline, C.W. Mining attorney Carl Kingston and IAUWU lawyer Mark Hansen filed separate briefs challenging the November 18 NLRB decision that no Kingston family member or other management personnel would be eligible to vote in the union election.

Both briefs challenged the core of the NLRB decision. The board ruled November 18 that “employees of C.W. Mining Company’s Co-Op Mine, who are related by blood or marriage to past or present members of the Davis County Cooperative Society, Inc. (a Kingston-family association), are excluded from the appropriate unit for the purposes of collective bargaining.”

These individuals, the board said, should be excluded from the voting because “they owe a strong allegiance to that organization and its leaders exercise control over members, as well as the employer… and lack the same economic interests as other employees and that they participate in an alternative economic system.”

Not a single officer of the company-run IAUWU—Chris Grundvig, president; Dana Jenkins, vice president; and Warren Pratt, secretary—is eligible to vote. The overwhelming majority of the 70 employees claimed by both the company and the IAUWU as dues-paying members of the IAUWU were also ruled ineligible to vote.

The C.W. Mining appeal states that the NLRB decision, “which excludes a majority of the work force that the parties stipulated would and historically has made up the bargaining unit, is prejudicial to those excluded and is also prejudicial to those supporters of the incumbent union who are not excluded, as well as to the Employer, who has bargained in good faith with the incumbent union for over 20 years. The Decision turns on its head, the objective of the National Labor Relations Act, whose purpose is to enfranchise workers and allow them the right to exercise the right to determine their bargaining agent.”

Co-Op miners said they are urging everyone in the labor movement and others who support their union-organizing fight to write, call, or send a fax to MSHA and the NLRB to protest the unsafe conditions workers there are being forced to toil under and the moves by the company to harass, intimidate, and fire UMWA supporters at the mine. They are also urging that letters protesting the threat of the December 9 mass firings be faxed to mine manager Charles Reynolds.

Contact MSHA at 215 E. Main St., Price, Utah 84501; Tel: (435) 637-3051.

Letters to the labor board should be sent to NLRB Region 27 Director B. Allan Benson at 600 17th Street, 7th floor—North Tower, Denver, Colorado 80202-5433; Tel: (303) 844-3551; Fax: (303) 844-6249.

Letters to C.W. Mining can be faxed to Co-Op mine manager Charles Reynolds at (435) 687-5724.


Co-Op miners and their supporters enter Mine Safety and Health Administration office November 29 following news conference to present charges of safety violations by Co-Op bosses.

We miners at the Co-Op mine are here today to ask the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to immediately order C.W. Mining to stop unsafe mining practices at their Bear Canyon Mine near Huntington. These unsafe practices include illegal 55 foot cuts where 40 foot cuts are the maximum allowed by law, not having readily available to miners a roof control plan for the #4 mine as required by law, and exposure to diesel exhaust in the outside shop due to inadequate ventilation.

Immediately following this news conference we will submit our complaints to the MSHA officials. The stakes for miners in enforcing safety protections are high in the face of the coal mining bosses’ drive for greater and greater productivity and profits. Just last week a miner was critically injured by a roof fall at the Dugout mine. We are expressing our solidarity with this brother miner and his family.

In the face of the Co-Op miners winning our jobs back after being illegally fired in September last year, winning a back pay ruling, and winning on our demand that members of the Kingston family be excluded from voting in the upcoming representation election (all decisions of the National Labor Relations Board - NLRB), C.W. Mining managers have been threatening mass firings of Co-Op miners. They are using new and arbitrary production standards as well as claims that foreign-born miners don’t have proper documentation. Furthermore, last week one Co-Op supervisor physically shoved one miner and threatened one other. (A report and witness statements have been filed with the Emery County Sheriff and we are demanding that the supervisor be charged for this attack). These actions by C.W. Mining are a direct violation of the July 1, 2004 National Labor Relations Board settlement that prohibits discharge, harassment, and threats against workers for union activity.

This morning a petition signed by nearly three dozen miners is being filed with the National Labor Relations Board demanding sanctions against C.W. Mining for these violations.

We have the right to choose the United Mine Workers of America as our union. We call on all working people, trade unionists, religious and social justice groups as well as immigrant rights advocates to support us against the desperate attacks by C.W. Mining that have failed to block our fight for union representation, safer working conditions, and dignity on the job.
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