Co-op miners celebrate with victory after long struggle
|Ed Thomas from San Francisco leads the miners in a union song.|
What began in September of 2003 ended with a victory celebration on June 4 at the United Mine Workers Hall in Price. The saga of the Co-op miners began when they came to the defense of a fellow miner who had been fired by the CW Mining Company. The miners all walked off the job in support of Bill Estrada. The mining company supposed the workers had all quit, as they had all walked off the job. The Emery County Sheriff's Office was called by the mining company to remove the miners from the property.
This began a two and a half year fight by these miners to obtain dignity and respect. One of their main arguing points was the low wages received by the workers. The wages are below the average of other mines in the area. A 10 month picket line was maintained at the mouth of the road leading to the Bear Canyon Mine.
The miners struggle garnered much nationwide attention and the Co-op miners became a voice for oppression in the labor movement worldwide. Their efforts brought much support from miners in Australia, New Zealand, Arizona, Colorado, California and other states. Other labor unions took part at the picket line and special events. The longshoreman union from San Francisco marched at the picket line in the dead of winter in early 2004.
Bob Butero, region four organizing director for UMWA, said, "A total victory would be a union contract and workers under a union mine. That victory didn't happen."
The Co-op miners celebrated the dismissal on May 1 of this year by Federal Judge Dee Benson of the lawsuit that the CW Mining Company had filed against the miners, newspapers and other organizations involved with the miners. The judge ruled the case was, "an attempt to intimidate employees and quell honest discussion concerning labor issues."
The Co-op miners and the UMWA were able to reach a settlement with CW Mining to withdraw their lawsuit against the three groups the judge had not dismissed. These were the UMWA, the Militant newspaper and Utah Jobs with Justice. The company also agreed to pay back wages to some miners who were involved in the union organizing effort.
Bill Estrada welcomed everyone to the celebration. "There are people who traveled long distances today to be here, thank you for coming. Our fight has accomplished some important things. We are yet to see how our fight fits into the future of labor struggles going on today or coming. We have seen millions of workers taking to the streets nationwide these marches can strengthen the labor struggles in this country.
"We have been a part of changing conditions in this place (mine) and be an example to other workers. Every step of the way we have had to figure things out. We have defeated the company every step of the way. We have had the support of the community and the UMWA. In the 10 months picket line the company tried to keep us off. They contacted the BLM, UDOT and they couldn't do it. We were allowed to keep our trailer there. The strike gained respect in Utah and beyond," said Estrada.
Estrada emphasized that holding the election to vote for union representation was a big step for the miners. In Sept. 2004 the mining company filed a lawsuit which stated the company had been defamed by remarks made by the striking miners and by the newspapers that printed the remarks. Estrada said that the National Labor Relations Board had ruled twice during the two and a half year struggle that the miners were fired for union activity.
"The miners feel confident and they don't regret any of the actions taken. We are in a better situation to fight for safety and better working conditions," said Estrada.
Mike Dalpiaz, international vice-president UMWA, thanked the miners from the entire staff at the union. He said they came to the aid of the miners from the first moment they said they had trouble at the mine. "We came to their rescue and we have won every step of the way. It has become a worldwide fight, through email, telephone conversations; everyone is concerned about the dignity of workers and has stepped up to the plate to help.
"We have all seen the publicity on the immigrant workers legislation pending in Congress. Immigrant workers made this country. All my grandparents came here from another country. This fight is no different than that. We need to do it again. We need to get on the street and make people listen. We need to win battles like we've done at Co-op. Get out and get working," said Dalpiaz.
Butero said in reference to immigration, "Over time there is a continuous ongoing battle or war we have to fight. As Mike talked about immigrants, in this room there are only two people in this room who are not immigrants and that is our brother and sister from the Navajo nation. Everyone else is an immigrant. We have a problem with the immigration system. We have a problem with the outsourcing of jobs from the United States to third world countries. There is an ongoing battle against working people. I hope everyone here today will keep in mind and every time they are called upon to fight that battle they will answer that call. The war will only be won when workers around the world have the same economic status that everyone has. Workers come to the US to seek economic justice. They would rather live in their countries if they could have found that economic justice."
Butero described the Co-op miners as a brave group who took on a battle that not a lot of Americans would have taken on. At this point the Co-op miners received a standing ovation from the crowd and heavy applause. One of the first responders in rendering aid to the displaced miners was local union 958 out of Sunnyside. Jack Smith, now deceased, passed the picketers in Huntington Canyon and came to their aid with a food drive.
Allyson Kennedy, one of the Co-op miners told the story of the lawsuit and how it came to be dismissed. "Everyone who participated in this fight have become changed people. What we've accomplished sets an example everywhere to fight for safety in the mines."
George Nichols from Jobs for Justice spoke, he said some labor groups are not supportive of immigrants. He said he couldn't stand the exploitation of the miners. "Little by little we have opened a lot of minds. These are just working families. It is a great honor to be a small part of this fight," said Nichols.
Militant newspaper editor said with the dropping of the lawsuit, freedom of speech and freedom of the press was secure. The fight brought to the public's eye the right for workers to speak of dangerous conditions before anyone dies on the job and not after. The Militant will continue to print stories of workers struggles.
Ed Thomas and Treven Alexander from the long shoreman union and drill team came from San Francisco in support of the miners. He recalled the long trip to Utah when they marched at the picket line and how they lifted the miners spirits as they marched off the bus. Thomas led those present in a union song.
Samuel Johnson, president of the local in Arizona spoke for the McKinley mine in support of the miners.
Estrada said they are ready to join with other workers as needed in their labor struggles.
Gifts of appreciation were given to those involved in the fight.
The struggle of the Co-op miners may have ended for now, but they have learned what's needed to stand up for workers everywhere and they demand respect and dignity for all as they go about their jobs and contribute to the economy of America.