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   Vol. 69/No. 16           April 25, 2005  
Utah coal bosses pursue harassment lawsuit
C.W. Mining lawyers answers miners’ motion to dismiss case
SALT LAKE CITY—“Defendants offer no evidence to controvert the allegations of the Amended Complaint,” opens the reply by C.W. Mining to 17 coal miners who have asked a federal district court in Utah to dismiss a lawsuit aimed at thwarting their efforts to unionize and win better conditions (see article above).

The lawsuit launched by coal bosses at the Co-Op mine in Huntington, Utah, in September 2004 states that the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), its officers, and 17 individual Co-Op miners are guilty of unfair labor practices and defamation; and that the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret Morning News, the Militant and Socialist Workers Party, Utah AFL-CIO, Jobs with Justice, and numerous individuals have slandered C.W. Mining and the company-affiliated International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU).

The bosses claim that fraud and conspiracy are involved in the actions by the UMWA, the miners, and the other defendants, and that the federal district court, not the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), is the proper jurisdiction to review their allegations. They ask the court to grant them discovery and the new brief filed by the company makes several references to the prospect of a jury trial.

The charge of unfair labor practices hinges on the company’s contention that the IAUWU is a legitimate union that represents workers at the mine. The bosses say efforts of Co-Op miners to bring in the UMWA constitute an illegal practice by the UMWA and individual miners involved in that effort. Co-Op miners have testified that the IAUWU is a fraud and has no record of coming to the aid of individual miners against company attacks on safety, work conditions, or pay.

The NLRB has ruled that no officer of the IAUWU or any other relatives of the owners working at the mine could vote in the union representation election held Dec. 17, 2004. The votes of 27 miners challenged by the company are being reviewed by the NLRB and have yet to be counted. C.W. Mining fired these 27 miners before the union vote, saying they had refused to show additional proof of eligibility to work in the United States. Most workers at the mine are originally from Mexico and had been employed by C.W. Mining for years. Workers counter that the company had the same work documents for them throughout their employment and fired them a week before the union vote to retaliate against their union-organizing efforts.  
Mine owners and company union brief
In the bosses’ reply to the miners’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, C.W. Mining’s attorneys detail statements of each miner published in newspapers that they claim are defamatory. For instance, this latest brief quotes Celso Panduro, one of the leaders of the UMWA organizing effort, saying, “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.” Gonzalo Salazar, another worker at the Co-Op mine involved in the efforts to win the union there, is quoted as saying, “If I call in sick for just one day, I lose my bonus for as long as the bosses want me to lose it.”

According to C.W. Mining attorneys, such “statements were made with knowledge of their falsity, or with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity, and made with malice.”

Co-Op miners say they have nothing to retract about what they have told the media. They insist their statements are truthful and are the reasons why they have been fighting to bring in a real union at the mine. The Co-Op miners’ struggle began in September 2003 after the company tried to fire supporters of the UMWA working at the mine. C.W. Mining locked out 75 workers who protested these company actions, but was forced to rehire them 10 months later after an NLRB-brokered agreement between the company and the UMWA. The coal bosses later fired nearly all supporters of the union shortly before the union representation vote in December.

“We had a leadership meeting of the Co-Op miners last week where we talked about the C.W. Mining lawsuit,” said Bill Estrada, one of the leaders of the union-organizing fight at the mine. “All of us found it incredible that the bosses challenge everything we have said about our wages, treatment, and conditions at the mine. They say what we have said is defamation, but we have simply stated what we know from experience and the reasons we have put up such a fight for the union at the mine.”
Related articles:
U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal of Pennsylvania case on ‘neutral reporting privilege’
Regional forums will promote Militant Fighting Fund  
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