The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 9           March 7, 2005  
Utah miners use NLRB ruling to press union fight
Decision that votes of workers related to bosses
don’t count shows strength of miners’ struggle
(front page)
PRICE, Utah—The recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision affirming the regional board’s ruling to not count the votes of 108 of the employees of the Co-Op mine in Huntington, Utah, as part of the union representation election there registers an important victory for the miners. The 108 employees, many of them working miners, were ruled ineligible because of the privileged relationship they have with the bosses as members of the Kingston family. The Kingstons are the local capitalist family that owns and operates the mine.

Among the votes rejected by the NLRB were those of officers of the International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU), which the miners say is run by the company, and many members of the Kingston family who began working in the mine after the company locked out supporters of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) on Sept. 22, 2003.

This labor board decision affirms the strength of the now 17-month-old battle of miners at the Co-Op mine for decent wages, safe working conditions, dignity, and UMWA union representation. Miners involved in this fight told the Militant how they are stepping up their union-organizing efforts by expanding their base of solidarity and support.

Co-Op miners have spread the news about their recent victories (see coverage in last two issues) to other miners in the area. At a February 17 meeting of UMWA Local 1769 at the Deer Creek mine, which was addressed by Co-Op miners, the miners’ call for support received a warm reception, and a contribution of $1,000 was made to be divided between the Co-Op Miners Fund and the San Rafael Catholic Church’s Mission Fund, which has been used to help miners with rent and utility payments. Members of the local are also planning to participate in the upcoming March 12 solidarity rally for the Co-Op miners in Price, the miners report.

Everywhere they have been invited, the Co-Op miners have explained their fight and appealed for financial contributions to help the 22 miners and their families who are still without work since the mass firings of union supporters last December. The miners said that they had also received a $300 contribution from UMWA Local 1385 at the Seneca surface mine outside of Craig, Colorado. They have been invited to speak at meetings of the UMWA local at the nearby East Carbon, Utah, landfill, and retired miners UMWA Local 1799 in Craig.

The Co-Op miners also recently traveled to Salt Lake City to attend protests against the attempt of the Utah state legislature to pass a law taking away the right of immigrant workers to have a driver’s license. Ricardo Chávez and William Estrada, two of the leaders of the Co-Op fight, were invited to address a meeting of the protesters. Many of the workers involved in these actions made a point of extending their solidarity to the Co-Op miners and dropping a dollar or two in a donation bucket.

They were also invited to a February 16 benefit for Utah Jobs with Justice that was attended by several hundred people. The event featured folk singer Utah Phillips. The miners set up an information table and raised more than $400 in contributions and raffle ticket sales.

The Co-Op miners are publicizing a March 12 solidarity benefit in Price, Utah, and giving supporters an opportunity to help their struggle by buying raffle tickets for prizes to be given away at the event. The event will be held at the UMWA union hall in Price beginning with a lunch at noon followed by speakers and a raffle. So far, several hundred dollars worth of raffle tickets have been sold to miners and other workers throughout Utah who support the fight.  
Co-Op miners struggle
The fight by the Co-Op miners began Sept. 22, 2003, when 75 underground coal miners, mostly Mexican-born workers, were locked-out for defending one of their co-workers who had been unjustly fired. After they were fired the miners set up picket lines and reached out for solidarity from the labor movement and others to win their jobs back and to defend their right to be represented by the UMWA.

As support grew for the Co-Op miners across the country, in June 2004 the NLRB ordered the Co-Op mine bosses to reinstate the locked-out miners and allow a union representation election.

Having failed to stifle the miners’ struggle through the lockout, the Co-Op bosses tried to stack the deck against the workers by submitting a long list of Kingston family members employed at the mine, claiming they should be allowed to vote in the union representation election, miners said.

After a fact-finding hearing in July 2004 to determine who would be eligible to vote in the election, the NLRB office in Denver issued a ruling on November 18 that excludes employees of C.W. Mining Company’s Co-Op Mine “who are related by blood or marriage” to the bosses, from the vote and the collective bargaining unit. (see excerpts of decision in this issue)

Determined to block the miners’ fight for representation, the Co-Op bosses then challenged the ruling, and fired more than 30 pro-UMWA miners December 9, one week before the election, supposedly for not having proper work documents. Pending a decision on the appeal by the national labor board, Kingston family members were allowed to vote and their ballots were sealed and kept separate until a decision was reached. The Co-Op bosses also contested the votes of 27 miners who support the UMWA who were fired on the eve of the elections. The labor board has yet to rule on these ballots.  
Kingston votes do not count
The January 31 ruling of the full NLRB in Washington D.C., in a two-to-one vote, denied the request for review made by C.W. Mining of the November 18 decision.

“They denied the request for review, filed by the employer and the intervenor union [IAUWU], on a decision that I issued on November 18,” B. Allan Benson, director of the NLRB’s regional office in Denver, told the Deseret Morning News. “The main issue in that decision was what the bargaining unit was going to be at the election held at the mine. And the primary issue there was whether members or relatives of members of the Davis County Co-Op would be allowed to participate.” The Davis County Co-Op is an association of Kingston family members. Members also refer to it as a religious order, miners report. At the July fact-finding hearing, UMWA attorney Richard Rosenblatt argued that the Kingston family members working at the mine have “a conflict of loyalty,” and “lack a community of interest” with workers who are not members of the family.

While the Co-Op bosses conceded in a post-hearing brief quoted in the NLRB November 18 decision that many of its employees are related to owners or managers, it maintained that such relationships are not uncommon in a small town and limited geographical area, and that the employee-relatives at issue here receive no special privileges or benefits as a result of their relationship to owners or managers.

But the evidence presented by the UMWA, and later cited extensively in the November 18 NLRB decision, argued differently about the relations this capitalist family has with some of its employees.

Among the witnesses called by the UMWA lawyers was Lu Ann Kingston Cooper, who left the Kingston clan in 2000. Cooper worked for three years at the offices of the Davis County Cooperative Society helping to prepare monthly statements for members and businesses connected with Davis Co-Op, including the Co-Op mine. In her testimony, cited in the NLRB decision, she described the “service statements” and “card system” used instead of paychecks to compensate members of the order. Members of the order received debit-type cards of different colors depending on how much the card is worth, which can only be used at businesses owned by the Kingston family.

“Members with unlimited spending power receive a blue card,” Cooper testified, according to Benson’s ruling, “those whose spending level is limited by Davis Co-Op, receive a green card and those who are ‘on the edge of getting a green card’ are issued a yellow card.”

“The specific messages she recalled from the training meetings include being told that overtime pay for members was not necessary because they were working for the kingdom of God,” the NLRB decision says of Cooper’s testimony. “The special status of part-time employee relatives is evident in their rotating weekend schedule and in the degree of flexibility they are allowed in deciding when they will work,” said Benson in his decision.

“Special status is evident in the wage difference between employee-relative and non-relatives…. The record contains little explanation for why employee-relative are paid substantially less than non-relative,” continued Benson, other than the information provided by Lu Ann Kingston Cooper.

In this decision, Benson said, “I find that the Employer is principally owned, controlled, managed and supervised by family members, and the interests of employees who are family members are closely allied with those of the Employer.”

“Before the strike most Kingston relatives at the mine were the bosses and other Kingston workers only worked on weekends,” said Juan Salazar, a leader of the fight at Co-Op. The miner described how when they went back to work in July 2004, “about half the workforce were relatives of the Kingston family and the other half Mexican.”

Salazar said one of the mine bosses, Jared Stephens, used to tell them, “Why don’t you go to another mine since they pay so little here.” They wanted us to leave, said Salazar. “They were afraid of the union vote.”

The Co-Op miners continue to ask their supporters to make financial contributions and send letters of solidarity. Checks can be made out to the Co-Op Miners Fund and sent to UMWA District 22, 525 East 100 South, Price, Utah 84501.
Related articles:
NLRB ruling on union vote status of Utah mine bosses’ relatives  
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