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UMWA Indicates Mine Labor Dispute Resolved

Sun Advocate community editor

A sign proclaiming the demands of idle workers from the Co-op Mine leaned against the picketers trailer during a group meeting at the kiosk across the street in late March. This past week it was reported that the situation has been settled and workers will be returning to their jobs July 12.

Last Friday, the United Mine Workers of America indicated that the Co-op employees who have manned a picket line for nearly 10 months are expected to return to work on July 12.

"The National Labor Relations Board has ruled in favor of the those on the line," said UMWA District 22 international executive board member Mike Dalpiaz during an interview on July 2 "It took some time because it was sent from the NLRB's Denver office to Washington, D.C. Then they kicked it back to Denver and told them to make a decision. They have ruled in the employees' favor."

The 75 employees will, according to UMWA officials, return to work at the C.W. Mining facility because the NLRB has brokered a settlement with the company resolving the workers unfair labor practice charges.

The charges stem from what the workers claim were unjust firings at Co-op mine.

The chain of events leading to last Friday's announcement started Sept. 22, 2003 when employee Bill Estrada was purportedly called into the coal mining company's office and told he was fired for not filling out a safety report properly

The Co-op workers, however, maintain that the firing took place because Estrada had been trying to organize the employees to join the UMWA.

Company officials have denied the allegation.

After hearing about the firing, the Co-op workers reportedly came up from the mine and confronted company officials. The company contacted the Emery County Sheriff's Office and the employees were sent home for the day.

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

After three days, the company decided the miners had quit. But the workers claim that they were locked out and not allowed back into the mine the next day.

In the ensuing months, the workers have maintained a presence on the Huntington Canyon road in the form of a picket line.

Allegations have flown in both directions about the legality of the line, the actions taken by the two sides and a trailer parked along the road to house workers in the winter.

The work stoppage not only gained statewide attention from the television stations as well as the large dailies and weekly papers in Utah, but national interest was brought to the situation, primarily through the efforts of the UMWA. The union was attempting to organize the workers before the stoppage began.

But another factor also tended to fuel the national media frenzy - polygamy. The Co-op operation or the CW Mining Company is owned by the Kingston clan, one of Utah's most well-known polygamist families.

Last Friday, union officials and displaced Co-op workers indicated that the labor dispute had been resolved in the coal miners' favor.

"This is great," said Allison Kennedy, who came into the Sun Advocate's office to deliver a press release regarding the matter. "It looks like we will be going back to work soon."

Kennedy, one of the few women workers at the coal mine in Emery County, was also involved in one topic that part of the initial labor dispute revolved around - an alleged lack of equal and separate facilities for female employees.

The workers claim women employees at the mine have no separate locker room to change clothes in.

Other issues that set the stage for the dispute included mine safety and pay, which was reported to be between $5 and $7 per hour for employees working in a traditionally high paying blue collar profession.

Details of the apparent settlement agreement remain sketchy. But according to the UMWA, the NLRB came down on the side of the workers by indicating that the Co-op employees were unjustly fired.

Calls to the NLRB last Friday to obtain the agency's confirmation of the decision in the labor dispute were not returned by press time.

According to the UMWA press release, the displaced Co-op workers will receive back pay and face no retaliation for actions taken during the last 10 months.

The union also said the NLRB will announce a date to conduct a miners vote to select representation for the workers at the Co-op mine

"There will be a board hearing the week of July 19 to determine when the election will be held," stated Dalpiaz. "That will give the miners a chance to see what group they want to have represent them."

Representation is an issue not only because there was talk of organizing the mine before the work disruption, but also due to the fact that the company claims the workers already have a union in place.

However, workers maintain that the present union is a company organization and all the officers are management personnel employed at the mine.

According to UMWA international president Cecil Roberts, the reported agreement binds the company from discharging, suspending or discriminating against any employee for engaging in any concerted activity on behalf of the union.

The mine also cannot question employees about union activities or interfere, discourage or threaten their participation in such activities, pointed out Roberts

The reported settlement agreement has set off several activities geared toward getting the miners back to work. One was a rally/meeting for workers in Huntington Canyon at 10 a.m. on July 6.

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