The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 3           January 25, 2005  
Labor support grows for Utah miners’ union fight
UMWA ‘Journal’ features Co-Op struggle
(front page)
ML Coalimages
This photo of Co-Op miners, UMWA retirees, and other supporters of union-organizing struggle is featured in January section of UMWA Journal 2005 calendar.

PRICE, Utah—“Until they decided to rise up against a hostile mine operator, coal miners working at C. W. Mining Co.’s Co-Op Mine near Huntington, Utah, worked often in unsafe conditions and earned just $5 to $7 per hour with no health benefits,” says a description of the photo featured in the January section of the 2005 calendar published by the United Mine Workers Journal.

The Journal is the news magazine of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which sends out the calendar annually to all subscribers and union members. Each month the calendar features coal miners who are part of struggles in the coalfields and beyond.

Its publication coincides with growing support from the labor movement in the United States for the 16-month-long struggle by the Co-Op miners to win representation by the UMWA. This backing includes financial contributions and letters to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) demanding it rule in favor of demands by the workers to be reinstated at the mine. The bosses fired most of the workers en masse December 9, a week prior to a union representation election. Recent support for the Co-Op miners has come from UMWA locals and district bodies, locals of the United Transportation Union, and others.

“Their situation reminded many of the old days of coal mining when workers had no rights, no security and no dignity. The straw that broke the camel’s back came in September 2003 when the operator decided to unjustly discipline a popular rank-and-file leader,” says the UMWA Journal calendar.

“Some 70 miners walked out of the mine and refused to work. The operator responded by locking them out, launching a 10-month strike that labor hailed as a ‘pivotal battle for the rights of workers.’ The striking miners asked the UMWA for help, and the union responded by filing unfair labor practice charges. The NLRB ruled for the miners, and in July 2004 they returned to work with a right to back pay. The miners also asked the UMWA to file a representation petition, which we did. In 2005 the UMWA will fight with the Co-Op miners to help them finally gain true union representation.”

The last statement is important, Co-Op miners say, because it points out that the miners have yet to win union representation and still need solidarity.

One month ago, on December 17, a union election was held at the Co-Op mine, located in Huntington, in the middle of an important western coal mining region. Of the 10 working underground coal mines in this area, only two are organized by the UMWA. Co-Op miners had three choices on the union representation ballot: UMWA, no union, or International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU). Workers say the IAUWU is an outfit organized and run by the bosses. The NLRB had ordered the election last July after more than 75 Co-Op miners signed a petition for a union election with the government agency.

Following a strike that lasted nearly 10 months, the NLRB ruled that the miners were illegally fired and ordered C.W. Mining, which is owned by the Kingston family, to reinstate every miner. The strikers returned to work July 12.

NLRB Region 27 ruled November 18 that supervisory personnel and relatives of the Kingston family would not be eligible to vote. The company appealed this decision to the national NLRB. Because of the appeal, Kingston family members were permitted to vote in the December 17 election, but their ballots were sealed, pending a ruling by the national labor board. The bosses also challenged most of the ballots of the some 40 pro-UMWA miners. Election results will not be announced until the NLRB rules on these challenges.

The struggle has received widespread support and solidarity in the United States, especially in the West, as well as other countries.

Almost all the Co-Op miners who supported the UMWA were fired about a week before the union election. The company claimed these miners, many of whom had worked at the mine for many years, did not have proper work documents. There is only one pro-UMWA miner left working at the mine now.

While waiting for the results of the union election and the NLRB’s ruling on charges filed to reverse the mass firings, the miners have been looking for work in other area mines. Many Co-Op miners have succeeded. About 20, though, have not yet found employment.

The miners report that just about every day they receive letters of support, many with financial donations to the Co-Op Miners Fund, at the UMWA hall in Price, Utah. A letter dated January 4 was signed by William Kleckler and Ed Koucherick, president and recording secretary, respectively, of UMWA Local 1385, which organizes workers at the Seneca Mine in Hayden, Colorado. “We feel the dismissal of a significant number of the workers who were in the process of participating in the vote for union representation is an act that is very much in violation of the rules that you are in place to uphold,” says the letter, which is addressed to the NLRB. “We ask you to rule in favor of the workers in this matter and against C. W. Mining Co. We feel the election for representation needs to take place in a fair and equitable manner.”

The local also voted to send $300 to the Co-Op Miners Fund, workers reported.

Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) Local 8-578 sent the following message to the miners: “Dear Brothers and Sisters: At our January union meeting, our local voted to send you a donation of $1,000. Your uncompromising struggle for a real union and human dignity is an inspiring example to workers everywhere. You have stood with us and we stand along side you in our collective fight for justice. Hasta la Victoria siempre! Venceremos.”

Many letters are being sent by individuals from towns and cities throughout Utah. Almost all the letters contain checks from $25 to $200, Co-Op miners say. A supporter from Bountiful wrote, “A small donation toward helping out the work of the miners. Wish it could be more.” The note in a card sent from Stansbury Park, said, “To the Miners, Your struggle for just treatment and fair wages are supported in prayers and monetarily. Be hopeful and strong!”

One recent letter to the miners from a supporter in Salt Lake City said, “They have put you Hispanics into human bondage also paying meager wages and no benefits for your families. Fight them-fight them-fight them. And go by the theme of the UMWA. ‘A Fair Day’s work for a fair day’s pay.’”

The miners report that many messages have come from people who said they had read about their struggle in the Utah newspaper the Intermountain Catholic. After sending a reporter to Huntington to interview the miners, the newspaper published a two-part series on the Co-Op miners in the December 14 and January 2 issues. Both articles ended with information about sending donations and messages to the miners.

One of the first letters of solidarity the miners received following the mass firing was from railroad workers in Minnesota. The letter was accompanied by a $1,000 donation, collected at an annual Christmas party for members of United Transportation Union Locals 650 and 1614 in South Saint Paul. The letter said the funds were donated “knowing the hardships and injustices you have endured, especially the recent firing of your members by the Co-Op Mine Company. We are railroad workers employed by the Union Pacific Railroad Co…. We have followed your inspiring struggle with great interest and support through the last year. We know that your fight is our fight. Any victory by working people anywhere strengthens the movement everywhere. Best wishes.”

The fired miners say funds continue to be urgently needed. They should be sent to: UMWA District 22, 525 East, 100 South, Price, UT 84501. Checks should be made out to the Co-Op Miners Fund. Messages of support can also be faxed to the UMWA at (435) 637-9456. For more information call the UMWA at (435) 637-2037.

Miners are also urging their supporters to continue to write, call, or fax the NLRB to protest the mass firings, demand reinstatement of the workers, and ask that the election be decided based on the November 18 NLRB ruling on who is eligible to vote. Letters to the NLRB should be sent to: National NLRB, Robert J. Battista, Chairman, 1099 14th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20570-0001; and NLRB Region 27, Director, B. Allan Benson, 600 17th St., 7th floor—North Tower, Denver, CO 80202-5433; Tel: (303) 844-3551; Fax: (303) 844-6249.  
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