|Co-Op coal mine employee and Price resident Allison Kennedy participates in the UMWA rally at Washington Park.|
A move to take disciplinary action against an employee initiated by the management at Co-Op coal mine in Emery County resulted in the walkout of a number of workers from the facility last Monday.
"We had an incident that occurred with one of the employees," confirmed Charles Rey-nolds, personnel manager for C.W. Mining Company. "It was necessary for us to take disciplinary action."
According to Reynolds, some of the Co-Op workers walked off the job after the mining company decided to take the disciplinary action.
"It's been a couple of days since they walked off," noted Reynolds last Wednesday afternoon. "After three days off the job, we assume someone who leaves and doesn't contact us has quit their job."
Reynolds identified the employee the company planned to discipline as William Estrada. The personnel manager claimed Estrada purportedly failed to complete a job he was supposed to perform.
Reynolds said work was still proceeding at the mine and all shifts were operating, albeit a little shorthanded. The personnel manager was not sure how many miners had walked off the property.
But the workers, including Estrada, who gathered in Washington Park for a rally on Wednesday expressed different viewpoints regarding the matter.
"We wanted a meeting with management over this problem and some others when we went down to the office after we had heard what was happening with Billy," pointed out Allison Ken-nedy, a mine worker from Price. "They refused to meet with us and told us to go home. They even brought in the Emery County sheriff to back them up."
The company reportedly told all of the employees who walked off the job that they were fired, according to Kennedy.
But the company gave a different take on the situation.
"Estrada was the only one of the group that was fired," stated Reynolds.
Estrada indicated that he felt the company was trying to coerce him into signing a letter that stated he was not doing his job.
"They told me if I didn't sign it, it would be considered insubordination," said Estrada while standing with other Co-Op employees at the Price park. "They suspended me for three days and then wouldn't give me a copy of the letter."
The number of miners who left the job site is in dispute. The company maintains that not many workers walked off. But employees maintain that the disruption began on the day shift. Then employees from other shifts voted to not work as well.
At the rally in the Price park, more than 60 people showed up on Wednesday morning.
Workers attending the gathering said there is more to the situation than the firing of Estrada. Working conditions, pay, unclear directions by supervisors and safety problems are also among the complaints the employees cited.
The workers at the rally also voiced concerns about a "company union" that purportedly exists at the mine.
"The workers have a union," stated Reynolds. "The International Association of United Mine Workers did not authorize the walkout."
The workers, however, contended that the company started the union and all the officers of the organization are bosses in the mine.
"Only a few workers belong to the union," noted Kennedy. "They have begun calling the bosses there 'lead men' so that they fit into the union membership."
Workers maintain that most of the employees at the mine are paid minimum wage or slightly more and union dues are $16 per month or $8 per check.
"Very few workers belong to the union," said Estrada.
The workers contended that unclear directions often get workers in trouble at the Co-Op mine.
In one incident cited by attendees at the rally, a worker was apparently ordered to do something by a boss and then was purportedly threatened with the loss of his job for doing it.
In addition, the workers claimed that there are problems at the mine and safety concerns were part of the reason for the walkout.
"One of the problems I saw is that the mine gets its water supply from an area of the mine that is caved in," said Kennedy. "They sent some workers in there to work on something and most of them cleared out because they could see how dangerous it was."
On Monday morning, the Sun Advocate left a message at the district office of MSHA in Colorado regarding the mine's safety record, but the call was not returned by press time.
In the area of inappropriate work and unclear direction, one of the workers at the rally also cited the case of a miner who was allegedly ordered to inspect a coal seam face by a supervisor.
The supervisor was supposed to complete the inspection and the worker was purportedly suspended for doing the job, despite the fact he acted under the foreman's order.
The rally in the park was set up by the United Mine Workers of America.
"A lot of these workers don't understand English," pointed out Jim Stevens of the UMWA, who was in attendance at the rally. "Some have their citizenship papers, while others are not documented."
"In recent days the mine has been going to some of the individual miners and trying to hire them back," indicated Stevens.
Reynolds said the workers who left have not contacted the union in place at the mine.
"The union here is not sure what is going on," contended the company's personnel director. "Some of these people were refusing in the past to work with the mines union employees."
Last weekend, some Co-Op workers went door to door in Emery County in an attempt to gain support for the walkout.
Supported by the UMWA, the miners passed out a flyer with 15 points explaining the employees' perspective about the relationship that has existed between the company and the workers.