The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 8           February 28, 2005  
The headline for this article on the union organizing battle in the Co-Op mine in Huntington, Utah, has been corrected from the print edition. The headline in the print edition: “Labor board: Utah mine bosses can’t vote for union” was inaccurate and misleading. The question has never been whether bosses would be allowed to vote in the union representation election at the Co-Op mine in Utah. What the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided is that the ballots cast by workers, many of whom are digging coal underground, would not be counted because of their family ties with the mine owners. The NLRB ruled that because of this familial relationship with the bosses of the Davis County Cooperative Society, these workers enjoy privileges exclusive of other production workers and have a conflict of interest in the labor-management dispute at the mine. This is what the United Mine Workers of America attorneys representing the Co-Op miners argued at the NLRB hearing on this dispute last summer, and their arguments carried. The Militant will cover this in greater depth in the coming issue.
Co-Op miners win NLRB ruling: votes of
workers related to bosses don't count
Miners use victory to press fight to organize
(front page)
PRICE, Utah—Coal miners here scored another victory in their nearly 17-month-long struggle to win United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union representation at the Co-Op mine near Huntington, Utah. On February 9 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced its January 31 decision that the ballots cast by all Kingston family members—the owners of the mine—in the December 17 union representation election would not be counted.

The announcement of this ruling came on the heels of another favorable development for the miners. On February 1 the U.S. Department of Labor filed a complaint of discrimination on behalf of Ricardo Chávez, one of the miners. The labor department complaint asks the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, a federal government body, to fine the mine bosses $5,000 and pay Chávez for lost wages and training expenses. The Department of Labor made the decision on the grounds that the Co-Op bosses forced Chávez to undergo training at his own expense before rehiring him last summer, following the miners’ nearly 10-month strike.

“The NLRB decision is a step forward,” said José Contreras, a mechanic at the mine run by C.W. Mining, also known as Co-Op, referring to the January 31 ruling. “But we are not going to be satisfied until the labor board makes the decision on which we all go back to work, with union representation. We want a decision that is complete.” The company fired Contreras and some 30 other miners a week before the union vote.

“We are encouraged and glad our just cause has received another favorable decision by the NLRB,” said Bill Estrada, another Co-Op miner. “But we can’t wait around for a series of rulings to come our way. NLRB officials say finalizing the decisions about our fight is ‘a great priority,’ but they also say they ‘can’t give a good time frame on an ultimate resolution,’ so we have to press ahead with the solidarity efforts that have gotten us this far.”

The Co-Op miners have been using the recent decisions of the labor board to help expand and solidify support for the union struggle. Organizers of the effort to win UMWA representation said they are visiting all the miners at home to explain the latest decisions and discuss with them what is needed now to press the fight. Workers said they have been setting up information tables in working-class communities in the area to get the word out about developments in their struggle. They are also organizing a solidarity rally in Price, now set for March 12.

Co-Op miners said they have been invited to address the monthly meeting of UMWA Local 1769 at the nearby Deer Creek mine on February 15. This UMWA local, one of only two in the state of Utah, has been a key backer of the Co-Op miners.

Other unions are also making plans to further their support for the Co-Op miners. PACE District 11, which organizes oil, chemical and paper workers in the western region, is holding a conference in Reno, Nevada, March 5-6. PACE officers in the Salt Lake City area, who have been strong backers of the Co-Op miners, have invited the miners to attend the conference, set up an information table, and raise funds for their struggle, workers said. Previous District 11 meetings have passed resolutions and raised funds in support of the miners.  
Labor board ruling
The January 31 NLRB ruling states, “The 108 challenged ballots of the individuals named [Kingston-family members]…are resolved on the basis that these challenged ballots shall not be opened and counted.” The NLRB in Denver will count only the seven ballots that were not challenged by either the UMWA or the company on the day of the election, unless one of the parties involved objects to it. The labor board has yet to rule on the company’s challenge to 27 ballots cast by Co-Op miners fired in the weeks leading up to the union vote.

In a February 9 press release, UMWA international president Cecil Roberts said, “The UMWA is pleased that the national NLRB has indicated its agreement with the Denver NLRB decision by rejecting C.W. Mining’s appeal. It is clear that including the votes of the Kingston family members would have stacked the deck heavily against the workers who risked a lot to finally be able to exercise their right to vote for union representation. This is a first step in winning the battle for the Co-Op miners, but there is much more to do.

“In November, 2004, the regional NLRB office in Denver ruled that the defined bargaining unit at the mine could not include Kingston family members because of their ties to mine management,” said the UMWA press release. “Both C.W. Mining and the company union, the IAUWU, challenged that decision, appealing it to the full NLRB in Washington. In December, 2004, a representation election was held at the mine, and Kingston family members voted in the election—though all their ballots were challenged and not co-mingled. Everyone’s votes were then impounded, pending a decision by the full NLRB.…

“The Co-Op miners have shown tremendous courage throughout this struggle, and they can be proud of what they have achieved so far,” said Roberts. “The UMWA will continue to help them try to obtain the true union representation they desire. These workers were—by the UMWA’s opinion—unjustly fired because they wanted to join the UMWA. It was blatant retaliation—and I said that at the time. The law says these workers have a right to belong to a union just like anyone else who works in America. It also says it is illegal to fire them for wanting to exercise that right. We intend to see their rights are upheld.”

More than 30 pro-UMWA miners were fired by mine management on December 9, one week before the election, supposedly for not having proper work documents. According to an NLRB decision issued in June 2004, which ordered C.W. Mining to take back miners who had been locked out for 10 months, the company was barred from threatening miners with discharge for union activity, or using threats related to their immigration status, to intimidate miners who were for the union. Many of the miners who have been in the forefront of the union-organizing effort at Co-Op are foreign-born. The company also fired other workers before and after the union election on made-up charges of “disciplinary reasons” or “low work performance,” the miners say.

The mostly Mexican-born miners who worked at Co-Op have waged a fight since September 2003, when the bosses fired 75 workers who wanted UMWA representation at the mine to improve working conditions, secure decent wages, and work with dignity on the job. Most miners make between $5.50 and $7 an hour at Co-Op, with no health insurance to speak of. The wages of most workers at coal mines in this area average $20 an hour, miners report.  
March 12 solidarity rally
Co-Op miners said they are working to organize a March 12 solidarity rally in Price to draw their supporters into the next stage of this fight. Many workers in this area and around the country who have backed the Co-Op miners want to know where the struggle stands, and how they can help. The miners say the March 12 event will be an opportunity to address those questions, and raise much-needed funds to sustain the 22 miners and their families who are still without work since the mass firings of union supporters in early December.

The miners have made up special invitations to all those who have written letters of support and made financial contributions to their struggle. Prizes donated by backers of the Co-Op miners will be raffled off. Miners at other nearby mines—union and nonunion alike—have begun selling tickets to show their continued support for the embattled workers. Local businesses where many miners work are also being asked to sell tickets.

Spouses of the miners plan to cook a huge pot of posole, a traditional Mexican pork stew, to be served at the event. Speakers will address the gathering on the latest developments, and on the importance of the Co-Op miners struggle to winning UMWA representation throughout the western United States. Co-Op miners have begun putting up informational tables to build for the event, talk to other workers, and give everyone a chance to financially support their fight. UMWA retirees have volunteered to help out in these efforts.  
Heavy economic pressure on miners
According to some of the miners, the company is also increasing its pressure, hoping to lure workers back into the mine without the union. Most of the miners fired December 9 have been unable to find work at other local mines or businesses. Miners say one C.W. Mining company official has left the mine and started up a “contracting business” offering to hire miners fired by Co-Op to go back to work at the mine. The offer includes wages of $5.50 for inexperienced miners and $7 for those with experience.

“This ploy by the company to get workers back underground without union representation is another desperate attempt by C.W. Mining to thwart the efforts of the overwhelming majority of the miners to win decent wages, working conditions, and basic dignity,” said Estrada. “The long delays between labor board decisions, even though almost all have been favorable to the miners, continues to aid the company in its fight against us.”

Co-Op miners say funds are especially important now to help the 22 unemployed miners with basic expenses. The Catholic Church of San Rafael Mission in Huntington helped the miners with their rents and utility bills for the month of January.

“The people who have helped before will be interested in supporting us now even more,” said Contreras. “With their support we can achieve what we all have been hoping and fighting for.”

Donations to the Co-Op miners can be sent to “Co-Op Miners Fund” c/o UMWA District 22, 525 East 100 South, Price, UT 84501.

Miners continue to urge supporters in the labor movement and other working people to write to the NLRB, urging the board to count the 27 ballots cast by the fired miners and to order the reinstatement of the dismissed workers to their jobs. Those letters should be addressed to: Robert J. Battista, NLRB Chairman, 1099 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20570-0001; and also to B. Allan Benson, NLRB Region 27 Director, 600 17th St., 7th floor—North Tower, Denver, CO 80202-5433 Tel: (303) 844-3551; Fax: (303) 844-6249.

Copies of those letters should be sent to the UMWA at the address listed above. For more information, call (435) 637-2037.
Related articles:
Peabody to close union mine in Colorado
Mine explosion in China kills 210; worst in 15 years  
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