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UMWA files for union vote at Co-Op mine in Utah
Labor support expands for striking coal miners
 
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 68/No. 22June 7, 2004

 
lead article
UMWA files for union vote
at Co-Op mine in Utah
Labor support expands for striking coal miners
 
Militant/Guillermo Esquivel
Striking coal miners picket May 24 with new trailer near entrance of Co-Op mine in Huntington, Utah. From left, Apolonio Acosta, Juan Carlos López, Umberto Miranda, Jesús Salazar, Ana María Sánchez, Jesús Galaviz, Alyson Kennedy, and Juan Salazar.

BY GUILLERMO ESQUIVEL  
HUNTINGTON, Utah—“Eight months after being escorted by Sheriff’s deputies off of mine property and allegedly fired in violation of U.S. Labor Law by members of the C.W. Mining Company, the locked out/striking Co-Op coal miners have filed a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board Regional Office in Denver, Colorado,” reads a May 19 press release by Region IV of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

“For years, some of these miners have been forced to pay dues to a company dominated ‘union’ that most of them did not know about until it surfaced during the current labor dispute,” said Mike Dalpiaz, UMWA International Executive Board member from Price, Utah, who is quoted in the union’s press release. The miners are taking advantage of a legally required open-window period in the so-called contract the Co-Op miners toiled under, Dalpiaz said, so “a real union can file a representation petition in an attempt to challenge or supplant the one currently recognized by the NLRB.” The company “union” contract expires in August.

At the same time, labor support for the UMWA strike is expanding. This includes a recent $1,700 donation from the National Union of Mineworkers in the United Kingdom; the establishment of a “buck-a-week” club by Communications Workers of America Local 201 in Boston, so that its members can send regular contributions to the striking miners; and the expansion of a labor tour for Co-Op strikers in the Seattle area planned for June 9-10 and sponsored by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Striking miners say the company union is called the “International Association of United Workers Union” (IAUWU). It never represented any of the workers when the company victimized them, the strikers say. The IAUWU officers are all bosses and relatives of the owners of the mine, the Kingston family. This multimillionaire clan, which has businesses in six western states, is notorious for superexploitation of its employees.

The Co-Op strikers aim to be represented by a real union, the UMWA, through which they can fight to improve working conditions, receive better pay and benefits, and win respect and dignity on the job. Co-Op miners say they were getting paid between $5.25 and $7 an hour, when average wages for underground miners across the United States are about $15 an hour. They were forced to labor under unsafe conditions, resulting in injuries and deaths on the job.

Nearly all the 75 striking miners who were fired to the person Sept. 22, 2003, by the company have signed the petition.  
 
Strikebreakers sign for UMWA
Another sign of the strength of their cause, even after nearly eight months on strike, is that a number of workers who have crossed the picket line have signed the petition as well, said Gonzalo Salazar, a leader of the strike.

“We decided to put our anger aside and do something that will benefit all the workers,” Salazar said. “We explained to the scabs why we need a real union. Some signed but others didn’t because they were afraid of the threats by the company. Some scabs have told us the company says it would fire any worker if they vote for the UMWA and that Co-Op would rather shut the mine down than recognize the UMWA.”

Salazar and other strikers said they visited strikebreakers at their homes to ask them to sign the petition. “We visited some scabs two or three times before they signed,” Salazar said. “Now the scabs also told us that the company is organizing meetings at the bathhouse promising raises of one and two dollars if they side with the company union. The mine bosses must be afraid.”

UMWA International Representative Larry Huestis added, “This petition is a legal step under the NLRB for the miners to elect a union that will represent them and have a better place to work and have a better future for them and their families.”

Huestis is one of several UMWA representatives who have assisted the striking miners throughout the strike.

The labor dispute has drawn widespread attention and support from across a broad segment of the U.S. labor movement and others.

On May 20, several Co-Op strikers updated UMWA Local 1769 at the Deer Creek mine in Utah on their struggle. “We spoke before four different union meetings of Local 1769,” said Bill Estrada, one of the Co-Op strikers who spoke in front of the Deer Creek local. “They have supported us all along with financial donations and food shipments. They decided they will help with the expenses of a cookout on June 5 at our picket line.” The Deer Creek mine is located just two miles from the Co-Op mine and is the only active UMWA-organized mine in the state of Utah.

“The June 5 cookout is being organized for us by the workers at the East Carbon landfill who are also members of the UMWA,” said Estrada. “The goal of the cookout is to boost support for the strike among miners here and bring in much needed funds for the strike.”

UMWA Local 6363 made up of union retirees also hosted one of the strikers at their recent meeting in Price for an update on the labor struggle.  
 
Financial help from British miners
Meanwhile, the Co-Op strikers received a check for $1,773.20 from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in the Yorkshire area of England.

A letter by the NUM to the Co-Op strikers, dated May 13, states, “Many thanks for your letter dated 21 April 2004 together with press cuttings in respect of your ongoing dispute.” The Co-Op miners had mailed news articles and a thank-you letter to the NUM for their support. The letter also sent the NUM greetings on the 20th anniversary of its 1984-85 strike, which was celebrated across many coal towns in the United Kingdom. “The National Union of Mineworkers sends its full support and fraternal greetings to all your members,” the NUM letter concluded.

Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 201 from Boston has also decided to back the Co-Op miners with donations. Their first check of $178 to the miners is part of a “buck-a-week club” by Local 201, which organizes workers at the General Electric plant in the Boston area. Two striking miners had traveled to Boston in March and addressed Local 201 members, as well as other unions and organizations in Massachusetts.

The UMWA District 22 offices in Price also recently received another donation from United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 342 in New York City. The local organizes meat packers at the Hunts Point market in the Bronx, New York, and elsewhere in the city as well as thousands of grocery workers.

Another example of solidarity is a letter of support in Spanish, English, and Swedish that meatpacking workers in Gothenburg, Sweden, sent to the miners.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the Seattle area is organizing a labor tour for the striking miners in the Pacific Northwest in early June. Two Co-Op miners are planning to go. Strikers reported that the tour is being expanded to include other unions.

To get more information on the Co-Op strike or to make a donation write to: UMWA District 22, 525 East 100 South, Price, Utah 84501. Earmark checks to the “Co-Op Miners Fund.”

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