New phone number for 'Militant'
The Militant and Perspectiva Mundial newsroom is now at its new location (see article). The new phone number is (212) 244-4899.
Grand Opening! International headquarters,
28-29, New York City. Click here for details.
Miners make gains in
New Mexico coal strike
After 12-day walkout, workers
strengthen union, win higher pay
The Gallup Independent/Jeffery Jones
Members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 953 at New Mexico picket line
BY KAREN TYLER
KIRTLAND, New MexicoWe are stronger than before the strike. Everyone worked together and we have unity now, said Calvin Yazzie, a surface miner at the BHP Billiton Navajo mine, in a February 14 interview.
Yazzie was talking about the outcome of the 12-day strike here that ended two days earlier.
The walkout highlighted the growing confidence of coal miners in this region as they fight to defend and extend union protection in the West.
Some 438 surface miners, members of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 953, struck BHP here January 31 after their contract expired. It was the first time these miners have walked out in 35 years. The new four-year contract, approved 249 to 169, includes wage increases three times higher than the companys initial offer and a raise in the allowance for Navajo traditional medicine.
The miners struck at the Navajo and La Plata surface mines, and surface workers struck at the San Juan underground mine. The 200 underground miners at that mine, who are also members of IUOE Local 953, had ratified a separate contract last May. All three mines are located on the New Mexico side of the Four Corners area of the Navajo Nation. Ninety percent of the miners are Navajo.
Miners said that dignity and respect were central issues in the strike. They dont respect us, Doreen Tanner, a heavy equipment operator at the Navajo Area III mine, told the Farmington Daily Times, referring to the bosses. They said you Navajos are soft, you wont last, well throw a quarter at you and youll jump at it. If they respected us at all this contract negotiation wouldnt have gone on this long.
Don Looney, business manager for the union, told the Militant that the new contract included a $1.00 across-the-board wage increase followed by annual increases of 2 percent, 1.75 percent, and 2 percent over the remaining three years. For many years the company had only agreed to raises of 20 and 30 cents. Looney reported that miners have also won an increase in the Native Healing Service, or traditional medicine, allowance from $500 to $650. They had asked for twice that amount. He also explained that there were improvements in the retirement package.
The miners feel empowered. The union needed this, Looney said.
Support for the strikers came from many chapters of the Navajo Nation, including Shiprock, Fruitland, Burnham, and Nenahnezad. On February 12, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., and a delegation from the Navajo Nation Council visited the picket lines.
Another issue in the strike was defense and implementation of preferential hiring provisions for Navajos, which is part of the agreement that allows the company to operate on Navajo land. According to the Gallup Independent, Lawrence T. Morgan, speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, told miners on February 12, BHP needs to be reminded that there is a contract and Navajo preference is in there.
Despite the abundance of natural resources on their lands, many Navajos live in conditions that in some respects resemble those in underdeveloped countries. According to the 2000-2001 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Report from the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development, 56 percent of Navajos live below the poverty level, per capita income is $6,217, and unemployment is 43 percent. These figures underscore the importance of preferential hiring.
The Navajo reservation lands are rich with natural resources that private companies have exploited for years. Disputes between the U.S. government and the Navajo Nation continue today over land and mineral rights, including recent attempts by Washington to expand natural gas drilling on nearby public lands.
Several Navajo Nation chapters, along with ranchers and environmental groups, filed a lawsuit February 4 against the U.S. Department of the Interior for allowing 10,000 new natural gas wells to begin operations that will pollute the environment in ranching areas and destroy thousands of Native American cultural sites.
Joe Nez, a miner at the Navajo mine, said: We let the company know that we wont take it any more. It was about time we took a stand. He added that this was not just about the Navajo miners. We have Hispanic and Anglos working here. This is a fight about respecting all the miners. We have to use the next four years to be better prepared for the next fight.
Calvin Yazzie said the company was surprised that we went out and stood our ground. I think we could have gotten more if we had stayed out longer but it was worth it. We are more unified now.
Amy Euston contributed to this article.
Co-Op miners speak to Utah students