The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 38      October 24, 2011

Coal miners fight Peabody’s
attempts to block union
PADUCAH, Ky.—Workers at the Willow Lake mine in Equality, Illinois, are fighting to force Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately owned coal company, to recognize the union and negotiate a contract. The United Mine Workers of America won a union representation election at the mine in late May.

Hearings by a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge on Peabody’s challenge, asking the NLRB to overturn the election, ended here September 30. A decision is pending.

Only one other mine in Illinois is organized by the UMWA, Springfield Coal’s Crown III underground mine in Macoupin County.

The right to a union safety committee and pensions were among the reasons 51 percent of the workers at Willow Lake voted to join UMWA Local 5929. The Willow Lake mine, which opened in 2002 and produced 3.4 million tons of coal last year with 444 workers, has a long record of safety violations.

In 2010 Peabody was fined $174,000 for dangerous conditions there, including inadequate roof support and excessive coal dust. In July of that year a supervisor was killed when a shuttle car hauling coal struck him—the first death at the mine. In 2009 the mine had an accident rate more than double the national average.

The case for Peabody was argued by the antiunion law firm Ogletree Deakins, the same firm that conducted the company’s campaign against the union prior to the vote.

“Ogletree Deakins made the videos shown in the captive audience meetings that threatened workers with closing the mine if they voted in the union. They provided training for the supervisors,” said Art Traynor, attorney for the UMWA.

Peabody claimed the UMWA resorted to “intimidation and threats, coercion and fraudulent conduct” to win the election. The company also accused miner Wade Waller of threatening to run over another worker with a piece of mining equipment.

Lawyers for the UMWA and NLRB have charged that Peabody committed violations of the National Labor Relations Act, including threatening to close the mine; the firing of Waller, a well-known union activist; and refusal to recognize and bargain with the union.

“The miners will continue to focus on building solidarity in the workplace and negotiating a union contract,” Traynor said. “The legal process is only secondary to that.”
Related articles:
Sugar workers battling lockout are ‘not alone’
Unionists, youth join Fargo demonstration
Union at military truck plant in Wisconsin rejects concessions
As UK bosses skirt new law, agency workers turn to unions
Hundreds protest school aide layoffs in New York
Marietta Armstrong workers: ‘We’re still fighting’
Paprika workers in New Zealand fight layoffs  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home