The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 22           June 6, 2005  
 
 
Fighting for union, Utah miners picket Co-Op mine
Protest bosses’ effort to bring back fired workers without union
lead article
 
BY KATHERINE BENNETT  
HUNTINGTON, Utah—“Come and join us,” Co-Op miners and their supporters called out to drivers in passing cars and coal trucks, as the unionists picketed May 22 at the road that leads to the Co-Op mine near this town. The picketing miners said they had just learned that a boss at the mine had been calling a few of the Co-Op miners and offering to rehire them. The miners have been involved in a 20-month-long battle with C.W. Mining, the company that owns Co-Op, to win representation by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

The picketers included four Co-Op miners, three members of UMWA Local 1769 from the nearby Deer Creek mine, and three retired miners. They waved signs that read, “UMWA is here to stay,” “We want the UMWA,” “We were fired for union activity,” and “Count the Votes.” They appealed for support to coal haulers and other motorists on the road to the mine and on the busy highway that it intersects.

Very few coal trucks entered or left the mine, however, another indication that the Co-Op bosses are not mining a lot of coal, workers said.

“I liked being at the picket line waving the sign and truck drivers blowing their horns. I didn’t want to leave,” Sergio Ponce, a Co-Op miner, told the Militant. “I’m ready to come back next week.”

A union representation election was held at the mine December 17. Faced with a likely victory for the UMWA, C.W. Mining fired 30 miners, all Mexican-born workers, eight days before the vote. The company alleged that these workers did not have valid documentation to work in the United States. The dismissed workers pointed out that they had been working with the same documents for years, since they were hired, and their validity became an issue only on the eve of the union certification vote.

This was the second time the miners had been fired. The bosses first locked them out on Sept. 22, 2003, after they protested the dismissal of one of their coworkers and demanded safe working conditions, dignity on the job, and a living wage. These miners were being paid between $5.50 and $7 per hour, while wages for underground coal miners in the country average at least $17 an hour.

After a strike that lasted nearly 10 months, during which the workers reached out and received widespread solidarity from the labor movement in the West and beyond, the National Labor Relations Board ordered the miners reinstated. The UMWA had filed charges with the labor board that the miners had been illegally fired for union activity. The miners were back on the job July 12, 2004. Between then and the end of the year, the bosses waged warfare in the mine to prevent unionization, including selective harassment and firings of union militants.  
 
Exchange on picket line
“We want them to pay you what we are getting,” said Bob Fivecoat, a retired miner and member of UMWA Local 9958, who joined the May 22 picket line. “We want to help make it better for you.”

Fivecoat, along with Mike Durrant, a member of UMWA Local 1769, Brad Timothy, president of the same union local, and Bill Estrada, a Co-Op miner, were talking to a miner who is related to the owners of the mine as he was leaving the Co-Op mine.

This miner told workers on the picket line he liked working at the mine and that “things were fine.” He said anyone who doesn’t want to work at Co-Op can leave and go to another mine. When asked how much he makes an hour he would not answer. This miner told the picketers that Co-Op was doing the “Mexicans a favor” to give them jobs, adding that production has dropped and that the company is trying to hire new miners.

The UMWA members patiently explained what having a real union at the mine would mean. “Every person up there is being abused,” Durrant said. “We don’t have anything against you. The union is the way. I have got four years to retire. When I retire I will get $1,800 a month plus a medical card. When we stick together you can go against the coal companies.”

The Co-Op miners said they saw no Mexican-born miners going into the mine that day for afternoon shift.

Many coal haulers and other drivers passing by honked and waved at the miners in solidarity. Encouraged, the Co-Op miners said that they will organize similar picket lines in the future.

“We did the picket line to show that our case has not gone away and to put pressure on the labor board,” said Josť Contreras, one of the Co-Op miners on the picket line. “We have to count on the support from retired miners and workers at other mines to win our fight. We should repeat the picket line to let people know the fight continues.”

“We are here to support our fellow workers. If we can’t support them we are no good,” said Brad Timothy, who was just elected the new president of UMWA Local 1769 at the Deer Creek mine. “We need to share our goodness with others.”

Tain Curtis, chairman of the local’s safety committee, said the unionists would bring other miners to the next picket line.  
 
UMWA District 22 conference
The next day, a conference of representatives of UMWA locals in District 22, which encompasses unionized workers in the western part of the country, was held at the UMWA hall in Price. About 50 people attended, including local presidents and other officers, as well as other UMWA members from North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Alyson Kennedy, one of the three Co-Op miners who are women, attended the meeting, representing the workers fighting for UMWA representation against C.W. Mining. Kennedy said she was received warmly, with many questions on the current state of the battle. “At the registration table the delegate asked me which local I’m from,” Kennedy said. “When I said I am a Co-op miner he said ‘Yes, you are a future local of the UMWA’.”

Kennedy reported that Mike Dalpiaz, a UMWA international vice-president, updated the meeting on the Co-Op struggle and told everyone that the Co-Op miners had just held a picket line at the mine. He announced a picnic and barbeque in July to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Co-Op miners winning their jobs back, invited everyone in District 22 to attend, and said the exact date of the event will be announced soon.

According to Kennedy, three members of UMWA Local 1924 at the Kayenta Mine near Kayenta, Arizona, who attended the meeting, delivered a check for $770 from the local to the Co-Op miners for their union-organizing struggle.

“A member of the UMWA Local 1332 from the McKinley mine invited the Co-Op miners to attend the annual picnic of that local on July 24,” Kennedy added.

Upcoming activities include the annual commemoration of the Ludlow massacre, which will take place June 5 near Trinidad, Colorado. The Co-Op miners are planning to send a delegation to the event. On April 20, 1914, a tent colony set up by striking miners in Ludlow, near Trinidad in southeastern Colorado, was attacked by Colorado militiamen, coal company guards, and thugs. Twenty men, women, and children were killed—many of whom were Mexican, Greek, and Italian immigrants.

A monument of a Ludlow striking miner, woman, and child was vandalized two years ago, which included decapitating the statues. At the ceremony this year the monument will be restored to its original state. Donations came in from around the world to help pay for the $80,000 restoration.

On June 4 a meeting of the UMWA’s International Executive Board will be held in Trinidad, Colorado. UMWA representatives from around the United States are expected to attend.

UMWA members in the area say the potential for organizing coal miners, coal haulers, and construction workers in the mines in this region is better now because of the boom in coal production in the West and struggles that have erupted such as the one at Co-Op.

In the coal producing counties of Carbon, Emery, and Sevier in southeastern Utah, there are 10 operating mines, all underground. Two of these mines are organized by the UMWA, while the rest are nonunion. Over the last year coal mining has expanded substantially in this state and throughout the West. This has led to a lot of hiring. Many of the new employees are young workers who have never worked in a coal mine before.

At the end of April, Bronco Energy Fund, Inc.—an energy investment company that includes operations in coal, oil, and gas exploration and production—announced that its subsidiary, Bronco Coal Co., plans to reopen a coal mine near East Carbon and Sunnyside, Utah. Bronco said that it has acquired the land and mineral rights to the Columbia mine, which was last operated in 1966 by U.S. Steel. Bronco said it plans to acquire three more coal mines later this year.
 
 
Related articles:
Court sets June 7 hearing in ‘defamation’ suit by Utah mine bosses  
 
 
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