U.S. Court Reaffirms Verdict in Castle Gate Prep Plant Case
A United States appellate court has rendered a ruling in a case filed by the United Mine Workers of America involving the currently defunct Castle Gate coal preparation plant.
The ruling resolved a dispute about the years of employment workers should have been given at the prep plant when a combination of Amax Coal Company and Cyprus Plateau Mining owned the facility.
The decision from the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirms a 2000 jury verdict issued against Amax Coal.
The jury found that Amax breached its contract with UMWA when the company sold the Castle Gate facility in 1996 without requiring purchaser Cyprus Plateau to honor successorship rights for union miners working at the plant.
Amax claimed that, because the plant was closed for seven years before it was sold, the operation was not covered by the successorship clause.
The UMWA contended that, during the period in question, Amax had kept workers maintaining the prep plant. The union also argued that , at the time of the purchase, Cyprus Plateau was planning the plant's reactivation.
"This victory has been years in coming. But it finally has come and the UMWA could not be happier for the Castle Gate prep plant workers," said union president Cecil Roberts. "They were wronged, and they deserve to be compensated for that wrong. This is also a great victory for the UMWA because it validates our strong belief that the workers' contractual successorship rights were ignored when Castle Gate was sold. "
Several weeks after the July 2000 trial, a major mine explosion caused the plant to permanently close.
In January 2002, the court entered its judgment order in the amount of nearly $1.5 million, representing the lost wages and benefits the members would have earned in the approximately four-and-a-half years they were not working from the time the plant was re-opened until it finally closed in 2000.
In October, 2002, the companies appealed the case to the Tenth Circuit. After a period of briefing and oral argument, the Appellate Court finally upheld the breach of contract award against Amax on December 30, 2004. Even though Amax declared bankruptcy, RAG American Coal Co took responsibility for the litigation when it acquired Cyprus-Amax Coal Company vefor the bankruptcy was ever filed. That responsibility also included making good on the damages award.
"This has been a long process but in the end the court proved us right," said Mike Dalpiaz of the UMWA in Price. "Interest has been acrruing on this money since the 2000 decision, but the situation will be mitigated out."
Dalpiaz said after all the years the union and the workers feel vindicated by the final decision.
"It was just odd that the explosion and the closure of the mine took place before the jobs could be put in place," he stated.
While union membership had fallen in recent years, Dalpiaz says that recently membership has started to grow, because some workers are realizing they can't fight situations like the one just settled alone, and that changes in the economy and laws are beyond individuals control.
"We will continued to fight to establish fair wages and benefits for working people," he concluded.