As the time nears for the election of union representation by the employees of the CW Mining Co-Op mine in Huntington, the firing of approximately 30 Latino coal miners leaves many employees and union organizations crying foul.
According to Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International, the move was a blatant retaliation against miners for wanting a real union.
"Here we are, less than a week away from a vote for union representation, and the mine operator has conveniently decided to fire a significant number of the miners who are eligible voters," stated Roberts. "Mind you, CW Mining has allowed many of these so-called undocumented workers to labor in the Co-Op mine for years without questioning the status of their citizenship. It was only after these miners finally decided to fight to improve their livelihoods through legitimate union representation that the employer started playing hardball ..."
UMWA is the union many CW Mining workers are seeking to implement instead of their current representation by the International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU). Some workers assert that the IAUWU is nothing more than a company union and is not protecting the best interests of the miners.
However, according to a letter distributed to the workers prior to their dismissal by mine manager Charles Reynolds, the United States Social Security Administration had notified the company earlier in the year that the Social Security numbers that had been provided by the employees were not valid and, to date, the recipients had purportedly not corrected the discrepancy.
"Federal law prohibits CW Mining Company from knowingly continuing the employment of workers who do not have the proper documentation showing that they are eligible to work in the United States," stated the company's letter.
Reynolds indicated that when a former employee of the mining company was arrested for illegal activity not connected with his employment, it was determined that he was reportedly in the U.S. illegally.
In October, the employee purportedly admitted that the documentation he provided the company when he was hired was invalid. The same worker alleged that other current and former CW Mining employees also provided invalid documentation and are or were working at the company illegally, indicated Reynolds.
Reynolds informed the employees that they must verify their legal status on or before Dec. 9, 2004 and warned that failure to do so would result in their termination.
Bill Estrada, a CW Mining employee and leading advocate for many non-English speaking co-workers, said the firing could not have come at a more terrible time for the workers.
"That's why we want to let people know," stated Estrada. "It's not only near the election but it's almost Christmas and there are a lot of families involved."
Mine mechanic Jose Contreras, who has been with the company for more than three years, said the firing of himself and his co-workers was discouraging.
"We have worked very hard for this company and it is just unbelievable that they would do this to us now," commented Contreras, as translated by Estrada.
Estrada said the workers will continue to appeal to the National Labor Relations Board to have all fired employees reinstated.
In addition to the employees, Roberts said that the UMWA would also contest the large-scale dismissal.
"This is blatant employer retaliation against these miners and the UMWA stands ready to pursue unfair labor practice charges to ensure these workers receive a fair shake and that justice prevails," he commented.
Roberts also called on CW Mining to publicly release copies of any and all directives it claims it has received from "federal agencies" that required it to update the miners' Social Security numbers.
"We want to see physical copies of the alleged directives to determine what was issued and when," said Roberts.
Roberts explained that the UMWA, in particular, believes that all workers, regardless of their citizenship status, are entitled to the full protection of America's labor laws.
"Since our union's inception in 1890, our members have prided themselves on the fact that the UMWA was one of America's first labor unions to pass resolutions prohibiting worker discrimination of any kind, be it gender, race or religion," explained Roberts. "That is why we intend to fight this blatant retaliatory move against these Latino miners with every tool at our disposal. CW. Mining turned a blind eye for years to the citizenship status of so many of the workers it fired today but then suddenly did an abrupt about-face on the eve of an election. What happened in Utah to these miners is another perfect example of the dire need for total reform of our nation's labor laws."
The election for union representation will take place Friday at the CW Mining site during two periods. CW Mining employees will vote between 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Many of the ballots are expected to be contested, according to Estrada, including votes by the fired miners as well as votes by members of the Kingston family.