The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 1           January 9, 2006  
Utah miners, fighting for union, picket Co-Op mine
(front page)
HUNTINGTON, Utah—Forty miners and their supporters joined a picket line in front of C.W. Mining’s Co-Op mine in Huntington canyon December 17. The pickets chanted slogans in support of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and raised their signs as coal trucks entered the mine. They cheered as cars passing by honked their horns in support.

The action marked the one-year anniversary of a union representation election at the mine, for which 27 of the 34 ballots have still not been counted. “A year? I don’t think that’s fair or acceptable. I don’t think anybody does,” Dave Maggio, a UMWA District 22 representative based in nearby Price, Utah, told the press.

UMWA District 22, the state AFL-CIO, and Utah Jobs With Justice sponsored the action. It was one of a series of events around the country organized by the labor federation and its affiliates to promote workers rights in conjunction with International Human Rights Day.

Several carloads of trade unionists and youth from Salt Lake City, a number of retired miners, members of the UMWA, and other supporters of the Co-Op miners’ fight attended the day’s events.

“We have always been true blue union people. When they were trying to get the mines to go union me and my husband were on many picket lines,” said Lucie Cook. Lucie was at the picket with her husband Bryon who worked at the Hiawatha mine for 38 years and is a member of retired miners UMWA Local 6363.

“I love this stuff, I wouldn’t have missed it,” said Kelly Oveson, an organizer with the Sprinkler Fitters union in Salt Lake City. Oveson took a break from a family holiday dinner in Huntington to join the picket line. “When I was growing up in this area working in a mine was the same as being union, we’ve got to get back to that.”

C.W. Mining, which operates the Co-Op mine, fired 33 miners for union activity in the days leading up to the December 2004 election, and one more shortly after the vote.

In a get-together at the UMWA hall in Price after the picket line, Mike Burke, a UMWA international organizer, thanked those present for having been out on the picket line on a frigid day. Burke told the gathering about a victory the miners have won. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has now found that 31 of the firings were the result of discrimination against these miners for their union activities. That includes the 29 who were fired on the pretext that their work documents were not in order.

The miners have explained that their documents were considered perfectly acceptable to the company, in some cases for many years, until the miners decided to fight for a real union. Guillermo Hernández and Alyson Kennedy, whose firings were on other pretexts, were also found to have been unjustly fired for union activity.

Burke also reported that the NLRB upheld C.W. Mining’s firings of three leaders of the fight for the UMWA at Co-Op: Celso Panduro, Ricardo Chávez, and Bill Estrada. Miners say they don’t agree with these three NLRB findings.

The labor board has scheduled a March 14 hearing before an administrative law judge in Price, provided a settlement is not reached between the company and the UMWA by then. “The company has not been cooperative,” Burke said, as the NLRB has prodded for a settlement. In recent discussions between the company, the UMWA, and the NLRB, “we couldn’t get anywhere because the company was so unreasonable,” Burke said.

Three months before the scheduled union representation election, C.W. Mining filed a federal lawsuit against 17 of the miners, the UMWA, supporters of the miners’ fight, and several newspapers that had reported what the miners had to say. Many of the miners were served court papers in the days leading up to the election, and some on the day of the election. A hearing on this harassment lawsuit is scheduled for January 25 in federal court in Salt Lake City.

Marie Justice, UMWA Local 1620 president at the Black Mesa mine on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, described to the gathering at the union hall the fight to keep that mine open, or reopen it as soon as possible. Justice explained that Peabody Energy began laying off the miners on December 1 and will close the mine by December 28. “I absolutely believe that having a union is the safest way to work. You guys here, keep up the good work,” Justice said. “Someday your kids will thank you for having good jobs that are safe. Keep fighting and you will get it, you really will.”

Bill Estrada concluded the program. “The fact that the NLRB has agreed that Co-Op violated every labor law and agrees that the miners were fired for union organizing is a victory,” he said. “Co-Op has paid a heavy price for its actions.”

The picket line and event at the UMWA hall received prominent coverage in the Salt Lake Tribune, one of Utah’s two main dailies. “Pickets marks one year of mine dispute,” read the headline of the article. The Tribune, as well as the Deseret Morning News and the Militant, are being sued by C.W. Mining for “defamation.”
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