In one expression of this growing support, four members representing United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local 9958, a retired miners local in East Carbon, Utah, came to the picket line on October 8 to bring the support of their local.
They brought $110 collected at their local union meeting, and another $83 was donated out of their pockets at the picket line. We will try to get others to do what we did. Our word is our deed. We will be backyou can count on that, said Bobbi Fivecoat, a retired miner and member of Local 9958.
The next morning the retired workers began collecting food and cash donations at the local grocery store, the Miners Trading Post. Nick Degiulio, one of the members of UMWA 9958 who came to the picket line, said, We went up to the store at 9:00 am and had a good response. Even the store owner contributed food. When I left there we had a sizable truckload of canned goods, potatoes, soups, cooking oil, and Mexican food. Degiulio began working in the coal mines in the East Carbon and Sunnyside, Utah, area in 1940. They collected a truckload of food that they brought to the miners and their families October 11. Before the food distribution, a short program was held. Billy Preston, an officer Local 9958, told the gathering of about 80 Co-op miners and their families that When we came up to your picket line we made a pledge that we would come back with food. We came back and we live up to our pledges.
Also speaking was Jack Smith, 92, a 60-year member of the miners union who has been a UMWA organizer and UMWA District 22 officer. With a union you can have your own safety committee, he said. There are laws that say you dont have to work in imminent danger. You can force the company to implement these laws if you have a strong union. It does not matter where you come from, or how long you have been here. When you join our organization you are our brothers.
When the members of UMWA 9958 visited the picket line, the Co-op miners on picket duty that day told these retirees about why they were fighting for a union.
Safety is a big issue, they said. One miner at Co-op, who like a few other workers there asked that his name not be published, explained that the Co-op bosses sent five men into a mine with only one self-rescuer [an oxygen unit used for safety reasons] to recover mining equipment. This is a mine that had caved in and as a result has only one escape way, workers reported, and this is where Co-op gets its water. I had to go by myself in this mine to check the water supply, the miner continued.
I only get $5 or $10 for Christmas bonus, another miner said. If you report an accident, you are laid off for three days and your pay is cut.
The retired miners described some of the many strikes and battles they had been involved in over the years to get the union organized in Carbon and Emery counties. Nick Degiulio said he had been in 15 or more strikes over the course of decades. Today out of eight coal mines in this area only one is UMWA-organized, said miners.
Lead the way for other mines
This will lead the way for the other mines, said Preston. In the other places the companies do everything they can to keep the union out. You have taken a stand. Im proud of you guys. United we stand, divided we fall.
Mel Stevenson, another UMWA retiree, described how they backed the workers at the East Carbon landfill to organize the United Mine Workers in 1999. A bunch of us got together, 40 old-timers, and we went down there and set up pickets. The bosses said they would fire everybody if they went UMWAbut we won. And until you turn union, these old-timers will be here.
On September 22 the miners at Co-op walked off their jobs, protesting the suspension of a worker and unsafe job conditions. The company, CW Mining, fired all the workers. The miners were involved in a union-organizing drive.
The next day the UMWA filed unfair labor practice charges against the company before the National Labor Relations Board, stating: The regular hourly workforce (approximately 80 employees) were discriminated against in regard to hire and tenure of employment by being discharged for protected, concerted activity. It added that the company maintains an employer dominated union. On October 3, the UMWA set up picket lines at the Co-op mine.
The Sun Advocate, the local paper in nearby Price, printed a lengthy letter on October 7 titled, Companys Version of Events, signed by CW Minings personnel manager, Charles Reynolds. In the letter Reynolds charged that when a worker was suspended for supposedly falsifying his safety/inspection checklist, and an employee became upset and called all employees off shift to protest. Some of the employees refused to participate in the protest and were threatened by the protesters.
The company letter seeks to respond point by point to a fact sheet that the miners have distributed widely explaining the issues. The letter states, Fact, There has been no abuse of any employee [by the bosses]. Fact…pay ranges from $5.50 to $20 per hour.
The UMWA is preparing a response to the bosses letter.
Solidarity with the miners has been growing. Are you on strike? Is this a picket line? a worker asked after he pulled his truck to the side of the road and walked up to the pickets. He was delivering acetylene tanks for welding to Co-op Mine. The miners explained their fight. Well, I dont cross picket lines, he replied.
The trucker said he had read the companys letter to the editor, and that he knew it was a lie as soon as he saw that Reynolds claimed that miners make up to $20 an hour. When I make deliveries I have talked to some of the miners thereI know about the low wages they make, he said.
Miners spouses are cooking hot food and bringing it up to the picket line. The first day they made huge pots of posole, a Mexican soup of hominy, pork, and dried chili served with cabbage, cilantro, and limes. Early one morning a wife of a retired miner brought a box full of egg sandwiches she had made. The pickets are organized in 6-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
According to these workers, several meetings of miners and UMWA organizers took place during the week of October 5-11 to discuss the importance of sustaining strong picket lines and continuing to reach out for support. This months bills are coming in and economic pressures are bearing down on workers. Unemployment insurance has been denied them by the state of Utah because the Co-op bosses said they had quit their jobs, miners said, and that this will be appealed by the union.
Right now there is about $3,500 in the funds that have been set up for the miners. Thanks to the work of the delegation of Co-op miners who attended the recent UMWA convention, donations are also beginning to come in from UMWA locals around the country. But more is needed, miners say. These contributions are used for miners expenses such as food, rent, utilities, and doctors bills during the lockout.
Domingo Olivas, a miner at Co-op, said in an interview that, My family doesnt need help right nowwere okay for now. But there are some families who are suffering. They need to let us know if they need help. We should find out which families are in the most need and help them first.
On October 6 the UMWA issued a national press release putting the full support of the union behind the miners at Co-op. Cecil Roberts, international president of the UMWA, told the union convention September 30 that We stand with these workers in solidarity as they fight for justice and dignity. We call on all American workers to support their struggle because we believe an injury to one is an injury to all.
Rosario León, the wife of a worker who works at another mine, has been contacting local food banks and agencies that help with rent and utilities, as well as Catholic churches in Utah, and as a result contributions are coming in. Donations can be sent to UMWA, 525 East, 100 South, Price, UT 84501; checks should be earmarked, Co-op Miners.
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