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Historic votes cast at Co-op Mine

By COREY BLUEMEL
Staff Writer

A Co-op miner casts his vote in the election on Friday.

The long awaited election day arrived for Co-op miners in the wee hours of Dec. 17. Voters arrived early to cast their ballots in the election to determine if the union status will remain status quo or if the United Mine Workers of America will be ushered in. Three choices were outlined on the ballot: a vote for UMWA; a vote for no union at all or a vote for the existing union at the mine, the International Association of United Workers Union. Which is a union recognized by the labor relations board. Voting began at 5:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m. and again from 2-4:30 p.m. Voting was held to accommodate the shift work at the mine.

The ongoing saga at the CW Mining operation on SR-31 in Huntington Canyon began in September 2003 when a miner was allegedly fired for trying to improve conditions at the mine. Several Latino miners walked off in support of fired miner Bill Estrada. The mining company says the workers simply did not return to work and they assumed they had all quit. This began several months of a picket line at the bottom of the road leading up to the mine. The UMWA supported the miners during this time. Several rallies were held and letters of support and money began pouring in from throughout the country when others heard of their plight.

During this time, charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board against the mine for discrimination against the miners and illegally firing workers by the UMWA. The mine also filed charges against the UMWA for union organizing when a union already existed at the mine. After several months of picketing the miners were ordered to cease picketing at the mine. The miners were ordered reinstated to their former positions by the NLRB in August. The National Labor Relations Board held hearings in Price to determine who would be eligible to vote in an election for a union.

The NLRB determined that family members and those related by blood or marriage to the Kingston family who owns the mine would be excluded from the election. Another issue arose when the mine began trying to confirm social security numbers of workers. Estrada said this has never been a concern in the past, but now with the election at hand the mine was allegedly trying to reduce the number of miners eligible to vote by questioning their immigration status.

The outcome of the election held Dec. 17 will not be known for months. The counting will not take place right away. It is anticipated that a lot of the votes will be challenged from those on both sides of the issue.

Charles Reynolds, CW Mining personnel director said, "The National Labor Board Commission is conducting the vote upstairs in the bathhouse on the mine site. It is optional for workers to vote if they choose. A representative from the UMWA and also the IAUWU can be present. One such representative from each of the unions. One-hundred and fifty people are eligible to vote. I expect votes will be challenged on both sides. The winner needs to garner 51 percent of the vote. I'm not sure if this percentage is taken from the number of people eligible to vote, or just a percentage of those who do vote. We are still waiting for a decision from the NLRB on the bargaining unit from the Washington office. This is in the appeals process. This appeal is in dealing with whether or not relatives would be allowed to vote and the definition of relatives.

"We haven't made any plans for what we might do pending the outcome of the election. We will just address things as they come. We'll just see what happens with the vote. We just don't know the time frame for the outcome of the vote," said Reynolds.

Many of the miners in anticipation of casting their votes met at the Huntington Town Hall at 6:30 a.m. to travel together to the mine site. Alyson Kennedy one of the miners was ready and eager to cast her vote. "It is a historic day for us," she said.

The day was long in coming and its arrival was met by much cheering and joy from those participating in the vote. The miners felt a vindication of sorts that many long hours and days on the picket line through adverse weather conditions had paid off. The election was being held and had become a reality from what started as a dream for these miners whose only hope was for better working conditions and higher pay to sustain their families. They have passed another hurdle along a road which has been filled with many bumps. A giant step was taken on Dec. 17 in allowing those who work at the mine to have a voice in joining the UMWA or not. What that voice said is yet to be known, but the fact that it was heard is historic.





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