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Vol. 77/No. 21      June 3, 2013

Fight brewing over safety,
conditions in Utah mines
HUNTINGTON, Utah — Coal miners and power plant workers here face a brewing fight over safety and job conditions won through previous struggles with the bosses at Deer Creek Mine and the adjacent PacifiCorp power plant, both owned by Berkshire Hathaway Company. United Mine Workers of America locals 1769 and 2176, which represent some 300 coal miners at Deer Creek, have been working under an expired contract since January. Members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 57 who work at the power plant recently voted down for the second time this year a company-proposed concession agreement.

Among the biggest concerns for miners at Deer Creek is the bosses’ moves to gut the union’s safety committee by reducing its size from 14 union-elected members to three individuals hand-picked by the company. Distributors of the Militant who spoke to miners during a recent trip to Utah were told repeatedly, “we don’t want more Crandall Canyons.” In 2007, nine miners and rescuers were killed in a gigantic collapse at that nonunion mine just a few miles up the road from Deer Creek.

Ralph Keele, chairman of the union safety committee, was fired March 7 after tagging out unsafe equipment at the Deer Creek mine. A second miner, Gordon Manchester, was also fired that day. Manchester and Keele are fighting to win their jobs back, drawing public attention to the company’s retaliation tactics.

“If there’s something in the contract that benefits the company, they go by the contract. If there’s something that benefits the union, then there is no contract,” explained one Deer Creek miner, who asked not to be identified for this article. The company has been stockpiling mounds of coal in preparation for a possible strike by the union, he said.

Deer Creek miners and supporters have been organizing protests to draw attention to their fight. Earlier in May dozens rallied in Des Moines, Iowa, outside the headquarters of MidAmerican Energy, the parent company of PacifiCorp, and May 4 outside the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb.

Safety concerns are particularly pressing on miners here following the latest coal mine death in the area. Elam Jones, a 29-year-old miner at Rhino Resource Partners near Huntington, formerly the Co-Op mine, was killed in a roof fall in March.

Mitchell Hadden, an unemployed miner in Price, told the Militant that poor safety conditions in the nonunion mines is a threat to all miners. He noted that Jones was on the rescue crew during the disaster at the Crandall Canyon Mine in 2007. “Jones left Crandall Canyon to work at Consol’s union mine, near Emery until it shut down in 2010,” Hadden said. “When it shut down Jones went to the nonunion Rhino mine.”

“Conditions are deteriorating because of the lack of union mines and the safety committees that go with them,” Hadden added. “Miners don’t get good representation in these nonunion outfits.”
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Next action set for June 4 in Henderson, Ky.
Fights by Cambodia garment workers grow amid bosses’ deadly profit drive
On the Picket Line
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