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Vol. 75/No. 47      December 26, 2011

Illinois miners win court
ruling in fight for union
EQUALITY, Ill.—Workers at Peabody’s Willow Lake Mine in southern Illinois broke through some government red tape imposed by the bosses’ dragging the miners’ fight for a union into court. On Dec. 1 Judge Jeffrey Wedekind rejected Peabody’s petition to overturn the workers’ May vote to join the United Mine Workers of America and upheld nearly all the unfair labor practice charges brought against the company.

Wedekind, an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board, ruled that on numerous occasions, before and after the election, Willow Lake management violated the National Labor Relations Act.

The judge ordered Willow Lake to reinstate Wade Waller, an outspoken union supporter fired on false pretenses, and pay him back pay with interest. “There is strong circumstantial evidence that the Employer’s antiunion animus motivated the decision to discharge Waller,” the judge wrote.

Judge Wedekind also ordered Willow Lake management to cease and desist “threatening mine closure, job loss, or other unspecified reprisals because employees support the United Mine Workers of America; promising employees benefits if they oppose the UMWA”; or “discharging or otherwise discriminating against employees” to discourage union activity.

Willow Lake management will have to post at the mine site a “Notice to Employees” stating the company violated federal labor law and affirming workers’ rights to engage in union activity.

The ruling also recommends that the NLRB certify the UMWA as the collective bargaining agent at the mine.

While the ruling was overwhelmingly in favor of the union, the miners’ fight for union recognition, likely including the court battle, is not over. Peabody has announced plans to appeal.

“Unfortunately, that could drag the legal process out for years,” UMWA attorney Art Traynor told the Militant. “We fully expect the NLRB will follow the judge’s recommendation. But the company will probably wait until the last minute to file its appeal. That’s why we’re a bit disappointed in the final part of the decision where the judge denied our request for a bargaining order,” which would have legally obliged the company to negotiate with the union.

The question of safety, and in particular the right to a union safety committee, is among the top concerns driving the workers’ unionization effort.

More than 400 workers are employed at Willow Lake. Since 2008 Peabody has been cited and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for dangerous conditions at the mine, including inadequate roof support and excessive coal dust.

In June 2010, two months after the disaster at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed, the Mine Safety and Health Administration threatened legal action against Big Ridge Company, which runs the Willow Lake Mine, and its owner Peabody, citing many instances of unsafe practices. A month later a supervisor at the mine was killed when a shuttle car hauling coal struck him.

Now the struggle by the miners—members of UMWA Local 5929—to force Willow Lake bosses to recognize and deal with their union enters the next phase.
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Rally slams Manitowoc Cranes’ union busting
Striker: ‘If we don’t stop it here, it will spread’
1,700 McGill Univ. strikers win, now ‘together, stronger’
Bosses get off easy in 2010 death of 29 W.Va. miners
Minn. tank trailer workers strike against ‘outsourcing’
Licorice workers in fight ‘for long haul’
Striking limestone workers receive solidarity
Pa. Steelworkers return to jobs with heads held high
Union power key to defend life and limb
‘Keep covering our struggles’  
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