The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 14           April 11, 2005  
Utah daily papers press for
dismissal of mine bosses’ suit
The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret Morning News, the major daily papers in Utah, continue to press for dismissal of the lawsuit C.W. Mining and the International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU) have filed against the papers. Also targeted by the owners of the Co-Op mine as defendants in a sweeping lawsuit are the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and several of its officers, 17 workers who were part of a 10-month strike at the mine that began in September 2003, and the Militant and the Socialist Workers Party.

All defendants in the case have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit. Company lawyers have responded to the two Salt Lake papers and to the UMWA. They have asked the court to grant them until April 15 to respond to the motions to dismiss the case filed by the 17 miners, the Militant and the SWP, the Utah AFL-CIO and its president, Ed Mayne; Jobs With Justice; Paper Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy (PACE) union Local 8-286; and University of Utah professor Hans Ehbar.

On March 21 attorneys for the Utah dailies issued their reply to company efforts to quash their motion to dismiss the case.

A bargaining election was held at the mine in December 2004, where the workers could choose between the UMWA, the IAUWU—which the workers describe as a company union—and no union at all. The results of the election are still pending. In a 2-1 vote in January, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Washington, D.C., upheld the NLRB regional director’s decision to throw out the votes of anyone belonging to the Davis County Cooperative, an association of family members linked to the owners of the mine. Because of this, more than 100 votes of the bosses’ relatives working at the mine were not counted.

The company challenged the votes of an additional 27 workers, claiming they were terminated from employment at the mine a few days before the election because the bosses “discovered” that they were “illegal immigrants” who did not have the proper documentation to work in the United States.

The lawsuit was originally filed in September 2004. The 70-page complaint was amended last December. The bosses claim that peaceful conditions existed at the mine for many years until UMWA “agents” disrupted relations between the company and the IAUWU in violation of federal law. They also claim that the UMWA and its agents and supporters, including newspapers covering the dispute, are also guilty of civil conspiracy.

The company and IAUWU lawsuit also makes sweeping claims of defamation directed at all the defendants. Twenty-four of the 70 pages of the complaint cite articles from the Militant’s weekly coverage of the labor dispute between September 2003 and the time the amended complaint was filed 15 months later. The company also falsely claims that the Militant is owned and controlled by the SWP.

On February 17, the Salt Lake papers filed a joint brief asking Judge Dee Benson to dismiss the case against them, their editors, and several of their reporters. The Tribune and Morning News argue that their coverage of the ongoing dispute at the mine is constitutionally protected. Their court papers explain, “The Plaintiffs defamation claim against the Tribune Defendants and Morning News Defendants suffer from at least six legal defects, any one of which is sufficient for dismissal.”

Attorneys Carl Kingston and Mark Hansen, representing the company and the IAUWU, filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss on March 9 that attempted to rebut these arguments. They pressed the judge to continue the case. In one of their arguments, the company and IAUWU lawyers state, “Plaintiffs have sued the Defendants, not for republication of statements made by a responsible organization, but for Defendants’ own false and defamatory statements endorsed by the publishers. The original sources from which Defendants obtained the information upon which Defendants based their defamations was not a responsible organization, but a rabid labor union and its cohorts.”

Attorneys for the two Utah papers filed their reply on March 21. They explain that the neutrality of coverage of a dispute is not limited to reporting on statements by “prominent” or “responsible” individuals. This right is afforded a writer or publication that reports on “‘serious charges made by one participant in an existing controversy against another participant in that controversy,’ and the appropriate focus is on the neutrality of the report, not the prominence of those involved in the controversy.”

The two papers also cite protections afforded in Utah for reporting on a public controversy where issues such as wages or mine safety are in dispute.

“Perhaps the clearest basis on which Plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed is the failure to allege statements that, taken in context convey defamatory meaning,” the Tribune and Deseret Morning News brief asserts. It further explains that the sharp language often used in labor disputes is protected free speech and the press has the long-established freedom to cover a dispute and report the statements by the participants in it.

The two papers additionally explain the legal precedents that protect the constitutional right to cover the opinion of the workers involved and to print editorials or opinion columns on the miners’ fight, which the company had listed as examples of defamations by the two papers.

The Utah papers’ memorandum challenges the company lawyers’ claim that the newspapers deliberately falsified their coverage of NLRB rulings during the Co-Op miners’ fight to be represented by the UMWA.

“Plaintiffs continue to claim that certain statements regarding forced reinstatement, backpay, and illegal firings do not accurately reflect the NLRB proceedings. Plaintiffs claim they voluntarily gave unilateral offers of reemployment, rather than being ordered to reinstate workers. Plaintiffs appear to suggest their actions all were done without any pressure or involvement from the NLRB. However, as already noted, the NLRB documents tell an entirely different story.”

The memorandum goes on to say, “Plaintiffs would have this court believe that out of the goodness of their corporate hearts, and with no pressure at all from government regulators breathing down their necks, Plaintiffs voluntarily and generously gave reinstatement offers to former employees they would have nothing to do with prior to the time of the NLRB’s involvement. Such an argument strains credibility.”

After the Plaintiffs have responded to all the defendants’ motions to dismiss the case, the judge will make a determination on whether oral arguments will be heard in this case.  
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