The public meeting, organized by Utah Jobs with Justice, was attended by many in the Salt Lake area who have been winning support for the coal miners in their 22-month battle to organize the UMWA at the Co-Op mine in Huntington, Utah.
Sánchez, along with Lori Gray, a nurse at the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, and Larry Tidwell, a telephone worker at Comcast, were invited to give testimony before the workers rights board panel on their respective struggles to organize a union. The five-person panel included Salt Lake City mayor Ross Rocky Anderson and State Senator Scott McCoy.
Sánchez told the audience that C.W. Mining, which owns the Co-Op mine, and the International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU) have filed a defamation complaint against 16 miners, the UMWA, newspapers that have covered the struggle, and many others. She said, They try to intimidate us with this lawsuit, but they have not succeeded. We persist and maintain a picket line in front of the mine. Production at the mine is much lower without us there.
Following the workers presentations, the floor was opened for any company representatives to speak. From the audience, Co-Op mine manager Charles Reynolds walked up to the stage.
Our company has bargained with unions for 30 years, he claimed. We are an equal opportunity employerour goal is that our employees are treated well. When Reynolds said Co-Op was one of the safest mines in Utah, he was booed.
Also in the audience was IAUWU president Chris Grundvig. The miners say the IAUWU has never represented them.
Workers at the Co-Op mine report that most of them have been paid wages of $5.25 to $7.00 an hour, far below the industry average of at least $17 an hour.
Nearly two years ago the miners, in their majority Mexican-born workers, decided to fight to change the conditions at the Co-Op mine, owned by C.W. Mining Co. They began talking to the UMWA about getting a real union.
Many of the miners have been fired twice: first in September 2003, and the second time eight days before a union election on Dec. 17, 2004.
One of the panelists, Martín Díaz, asked Reynolds, Would you be open to the UMWA? Taking several minutes to respond and looking down at the Bible he was holding, Reynolds said, I dont know how much I could comment on that without looking into this. If the employees choose the UMWA we would bargain with it.
Another question to Reynolds was: Would you work for $5.25 an hour? He said, I guess if there was a better job Id take it. Asked why the miners wanted a union, he said, In my opinion, I cant elaborate on that.
From the audience, Co-Op miner Bill Estrada took the floor. It has been 22 months and we cannot depend on the NLRB and MSHA, he said, referring to the National Labor Relations Board and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. We miners have made a choice. We want to be represented by the UMWA and the NLRB refuses to count the votes. This is a serious issue. It affects not only us but all other coal miners in Utah.
Estrada added, Were not going to go away. Were still organizing picket lines.
Pickets at Co-Op mine press fight for UMWA
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