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Front Page » April 13, 2004 » Local News » Strikers vow to continue Co-op mine picket line
Published 4,195 days ago

Strikers vow to continue Co-op mine picket line

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Sun Advocate community editor

Striking workers vow to continue to man the picket lines at Co-op coal mine in Emery County. The labor dispute involving the workers and CW Mining Company has attracted the attention of local, state and national news media.

Cars and trucks traveling the canyon continue to pass by the picketing Co-op miners. Many drivers respond to a picket sign and honk horns in support of the miners. Other vehicles buzz silently past the picket line, turn right and head to the mine.

"We've now been standing here for over six months," points out Allison Kennedy, referring to the strike or lockout that began Sept. 22, 2003. "And well be here as long as it takes."

Both sides have engaged in a war of words through the media since the labor action started. The work stoppage has not only gained statewide coverage by the television stations and in newspapers across Utah, but national attention has been brought to the situation primarily through the efforts of the United Mine Workers of America. The UMWA attempted to organize the mine workers when the stoppage began.

Adding to the media's interest is the fact that Co-op or CW Mining Company is owned by the Kingstons, one of Utah's most well-known polygamist families. High profile cases involving polygamy have resulted in a media spotlight on what would normally be considered as a small labor dispute.

"We have had support from all over Utah," states Kennedy. "And a great deal from many places around the United States as well."

In February, buses and numerous vehicles came to the small corner where Huntington Canyon and Bear Canyon join and where the picketers stand day in and day out.

The buses and vehicles brought dozens of supporters from various labor organizations as well as human rights groups. But the call to support the picketers has gone farther than union groups. Religious organizations, women and family advocates as well as Latino support groups have joined in the effort.

The headquarters for the Co-op picketers consists of a shed plastered with sighns erected on one corner of the intersection.

During the winter, an old mobile home was moved onto the opposite corner so the the picketers to get out of the cold weather conditions.

"You ought to have seen us huddling in that trailer to keep warm this winter," comments Kennedy.

But despite being held up in the mobile, they continued a presence on the corner all winter, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"They have just been trying to wait us out, I guess," comments Bill Estrada, the man around whom the strike started and the leader of the local group of picketers. "They think one day we will give up, but we won't."

According to the workers, the strike began as a protest when Estrada was allegedly fired for trying to bring the UMWA into the mine.

Management of the mine, however, claims Estrada was fired because he failed to fill out a report properly regarding a safety system on a continuous mining machine.

When the Sun Advocate interviewed CW's personnel director Charles Reynolds last October, he said all the miners left the mine after the protest and never came back to work.

After three days, the coal company decided the miners had quit.

But the workers maintain they were locked out of the mine.

The situation has become a dispute for both sides of the issue. Picketers claim that they have talked a number of people into not going to the mine, including some individuals who make deliveries to the facility.

"One day, a driver stopped by and told us that he was a teamster and he wouldn't be crossing our picket line anymore to make deliveries his company had for the mine," indicates Kennedy. "Now, he drops their stuff off at the convenience store in Huntington and calls them up and tells them that he has left the delivery there. They have to go down and pick it up."

But there have also been failures. A driver for different company apparently stopped and talked with picketers one day and told the workers he would not continue to deliver to the mine. But a few days later, the driver apparently delivered some materials for the mine.

"He stopped on the way back and told us that his boss said he either made deliveries to the mine or he could look for another job," explains Kennedy.

Picketers also claim they are frequently visited by the Emery County Sheriff's Office because the mine calls the department with complaints

As the Sun Advocate arrived at the picket line to conduct interviews, an Emery law enforcement cruiser was pulling away from the site. Kennedy said the officer indicated that a complaint had been made claiming the strikers were in the roadway harassing traffic.

"I think it was because we were on the road talking to someone who stopped and wanted to talk to us," notes Kennedy.

While the Sun Advocate was at the site, a small car came down Bear Canyon with two men inside the vehicle. The car stopped and the passenger videotaped the strikers, a supporter talking to the picketers and the newspaper reporter.

"They've actually done that a number of times," points out Estrada. "I'm not sure why. I think they just want to be sure they know who is here doing this from time to time."

Numerous miners involved in the picketing process do not speak English and Estrada has to interpret for the workers.

For example, Juan Salazar has worked at the mine for three years. Standing on the line with Jesus Salazar and Sergio Ponce, who also speak little English, he said that the fight is for more than money or working conditions.

"I believe in what we are doing," states Salazar. "This has become a fight for respect and dignity."

"It's very hard," explains Salazar, discussing how he and his family are making ends meet without a job. "But, together, we are moving on."

Of the five dozen plus miners affected by the labor dispute, Estrada indicates about half have found other jobs, but some continue to picket when they are not working. Other miners are surviving on what supporters are sending from as far away as England and Australia. Sometimes food donations come in and other times it is money. A major supporter of the picketers is the San Rafael Mission. The Catholic Church has been receiving donations from across Utah and distributes the funds to the strikers to help with rent and mortgage payments.

CW Mining's practices have been under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board since the strike began, but no decision has been rendered.

"Why is this taking so long?" asks Estrada.

The miners contend that the company is interfering with the workers' rights to organize and the present union at the mine is a company run labor organization. But even if the NLRB comes down in favor of the miners, no one knows what weight the decision will carry since the federal agency's findings are often sent to a company with a request to mitigate the problem. If a company fails to act on the request, the NLRB can take other action.

"We've got support from the UMWA all over the west," points out Estrada. "Another mine that was on strike even sent us help. How can we give up with so many people behind us and our cause?"

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