The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 68/No. 25           July 6, 2004  
Striking Utah coal miners on
labor tour in Pacific Northwest
Longshore union expands support for UMWA strike
(front page)
Militant/Mark Downs
Juan Salazar (center) a striking worker from Co-Op coal mine in Huntington, Utah, speaks at June 9 meeting in Portland, Oregon, of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 40-one of nine ILWU locals that miners addressed. On right is Local 40 secretary treasurer Kevin Clark. On left is translator Alder Phillips.

SEATTLE—“These miners aren’t joining the labor movement. They are leading it.” With these remarks, Bob Gorman, Area Director of the AFL-CIO’s Field Mobilization Department, concluded a June 10 meeting at the Labor Temple here featuring two striking coal miners from the Co-Op mine in Huntington, Utah. Sponsored by the King County Labor Council (KCLC), the event was a part of a June 8-10 labor tour of the miners in this state and Oregon.

During the tour, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members and others contributed some $15,000 to the United Mine Workers of America struggle for safety on the job and union recognition. Nine ILWU locals in the Pacific Northwest invited the miners to their membership meetings and heard their story. This extended the solidarity up the West Coast that ILWU Local 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area began earlier this year.

When the strikers arrived in Seattle, two members of ILWU Local 19, who helped organize the tour, met them at the airport. The dockworkers took strike leaders Juan Salazar and Alyson Kennedy to meet members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 612 in Tacoma, Washington.

The UMWA strikers met for several hours with Charles Lascurain, Local 612’s recording corresponding secretary, and Ed Taylor, the local’s president. The local organizes a surface mine in Centralia, Washington.

The Operating Engineers told the Utah miners that the 500 coal miners in Centralia have been working without a contract since February. They also asked the striking miners to keep them informed of developments in their walkout and said that the local is sending a contribution to the UMWA office in Price, Utah.

The next day, Salazar and Kennedy spoke to ILWU Locals 8, 4, 40, and 92 in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. On June 10 they addressed ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma and ILWU Locals 19A and 19B and Locals 52, and 98 in Seattle. They also addressed union members at the Seattle Labor Temple at the meeting sponsored by the KCLC.

“You can’t win if you don’t fight,” said Jack Mulcahy, from ILWU Local 8. “Juan and Alyson were well received at the Portland and Vancouver longshore locals because these coal miners are in a real fight. I was on the phone today talking to people in L.A. because I believe we can extend solidarity further down the coast to Los Angeles. And it would be a good idea to make it international and bring the coal miners up to the longshore locals in Vancouver, British Columbia.”

“We are at a real critical point,” Alyson Kennedy told about 35 people who attended the June 10 King County Labor Council meeting. “The situation we are in means that everything we do every day makes a difference. This is true for the miners on strike and for our supporters. Solidarity now is crucial.”

Among those attending the meeting were members of various unions, students, and others. Gorman chaired the event.

“Thanks to your support,” said Salazar in his opening remarks, the miners have been on strike now for nine months. “Because of years of horrible conditions myself and others started to organize into the United Mine Workers of America.”

Salazar listed the brutal conditions the mainly Mexican workforce labored under. “Workers are forced to work when they are injured,” he said. “I broke my left arm and was forced to work for a month and a half with a broken arm doing jobs that were dangerous. We have no health insurance. Medical expenses for on-the-job injuries are taken from our checks. And our average pay is $5 to $7 an hour while the average for the mining industry is $15 to $20 an hour.”  
‘Company realized we were solid’
CW Mining, also known as Co-Op, began firing the miners most active in trying to bring in the UMWA. “They tried to fire me,” Salazar explained, “but my co-workers protested and I got my job back.” But the intimidation continued. “Another co-worker was fired. The company tried to hide behind the charge that the worker wasn’t doing his job well but we know it was because of his union activism. When the company realized how solid we were the company said ‘fine, you’re all fired’ and called police to get us off the property.”

Kennedy gave supporters an update on where the miners currently stand in their battle for union representation at CW Mining. “Because of the solidarity we have gotten and the pressure put on the Kingstons (the company owners),” she said, “the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) upheld the charge filed Sept. 23, 2003, by the UMWA that the miners were illegally fired for union activity. The labor board told the union they would be issuing this in writing.”

The UMWA had also charged that the company union was illegally constituted. The labor board, however, told the UMWA that it refused to rule on this because it considered the company union to be legitimate.

Stepped up solidarity is especially crucial now, Kennedy stressed. The NLRB has informed the UMWA that the government labor board will authorize the striking miners to vote in a union representation election at CW Mining. When the miners were forced out on strike, they filed a petition, with the assistance of the UMWA, against the so-called International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU), an outfit led by the bosses at the Co-Op mine and family members of the Kingstons. The miners filed the petition during an “open window” period in the terms of the so-called contract under which they worked that allows the workers to seek representation by a real union. This “contract” expires August 10.

Kennedy said that 74 miners signed the initial petition, almost the entire workforce at the mine at the start of the strike. “Sixty six miners recently signed a backup petition,” Kennedy stated, “including 10 scabs. The scabs are being treated very badly by the company.”

Kennedy said the miners are working with the Co-Op Miners Solidarity Committee in Salt Lake City, Utah, to continue picketing businesses owned by the Kingstons. She said the strikers plan to speak to as many union meetings as possible to spread the word about the strike and gain more solidarity.

Unionists and others at the meeting discussed how to expand solidarity. Robby Stern, special assistant to the president of the Washington State Labor Council, invited the strikers to attend a national meeting of state federations of the AFL-CIO—called Workers Voice—that will be held July 18 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  
‘Unionizing western coalfields’
Members of the United Transportation Union (UTU) reported that UTU Local 845 passed a resolution in support of the Co-Op miners in January. The solidarity resolution was sent to the UMWA, along with donations exceeding $1,200. “Your victory would spur unionization throughout the western coalfields, promoting decent wages and safe working conditions for all miners,” the resolution reads.

“We work for a company—the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad—that, like yours, makes enormous profits from coal mining and has extensive operations in the Powder River Basin where your mine is located. We also know how important union representation is, especially on jobs that have genuine safety risks every day, like mining and railroading.”

The Union Pacific Railroad transports the coal mined in the Carbon and Emery County area where the Co-Op mine is located. Unionists in the UTU pointed to the opportunity for building solidarity with the coal miners at a June 21-23 western regional UTU conference in Reno, Nevada.

Gorman proposed that in order to advance ongoing support for the UMWA struggle a broadly sponsored public meeting by the labor movement and fund-raiser be organized in Seattle for the striking miners.

At a June 15 meeting of the KCLC, ILWU Local 19 presented a resolution stating, “the King County Labor Council will invite two Co-Op miners to come and speak at a delegates meeting and that the KCLC will host a Fund Raiser prior to the delegates meeting followed by a public forum.” The resolution was approved and July 21 was set as the date to invite the striking miners back to Seattle.

“The successful tour of the miners in the longshore locals was inspiring and gives me confidence in the kind of solidarity we can get in the labor movement, when workers put up a real fight and are able to get their story out,” commented Mark Downs, a member of ILWU Local 19.

At every local meeting the strikers invited unionists to come to Huntington. At the last union meeting they addressed, ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma, unionists voted to send two of their members to Utah June 18-19 to get a first-hand feel of the situation on the ground, bring solidarity to the miners there, and then report back.

For 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.

Chris Rayson, a member of UTU Local 845 in Seattle, contributed to this article.  
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