Local mine workers deserve better treatment

In Aug. 2003, William Estrada organized a meeting with co workers and a labor representative of the United Mine Workers Association. Estrada believed that the C.W. Mining Company- located near the town of Huntington in Emery County-was taking advantage of mostly immigrant workers. After the meeting, the workers quietly began to discuss their rights.

A few weeks later, Estrada was suspended. Management told The Salt Lake Tribune that Estrada was suspended (and later fired) because “it was simply in response to some problems they [the owners] were having with him on the job,” and not for organizing workers.

Co-worker Julio Salas stands with Estrada. According to him, in just three days, “All the workers went to the management. We tried to have a discussion with them to resolve what seemed to be clearly an attempt to fire William Estrada.” After fruitless negotiations, the 74 workers-some of whom had worked there for more than two decades-walked out in solidarity.

“Their walkout,” according to the Intermountain Catholic Reporter, “quickly became a lockout, when the striking miners were immediately fired.”

Although Estrada had spent more than a year at the Co-Op, he never earned more than $6 an hour. Now he stands, day after day, on the picket line held at the junction of State Road 31 and the mine access road. And he’s not alone.

The locked-out miners and their growing collective of supporters stand together outside, 24 hours a day, and hold signs and chant slogans: “We demand dignity and respect” and “Co-Op miners on strike, y qu?” (“You got a problem with that?”)

The workers maintain that it is their legal right to seek and create fair union representation. They state that it was the Co-Op mine conditions that led them to the walk-out. They are paid $5.25 to $7.00 per hour (compared with the Utah average of $21), regardless of how long they have worked for the company.

Guillermo Hernandez has worked at the Co-Op for 22 years, and yet earns less than $8 per hour, with no pension nor medical benefits. Celso Panduro told The Tribune he couldn’t afford to celebrate his son Daniel’s third birthday because his wages barely cover rent and food.

The workers maintain that the Co-Op doesn’t offer reasonable medical insurance and retirement benefits and that most workers are forced to go without. They are forced into unsafe conditions without adequate training and are required to use unsafe machinery. In fact, UMWA International Representative Jim Stevens, who mined coal for 12 years, believes that the unsafe machinery at the Co-Op may be unexamined by safety inspections if it is housed in certain areas of the mine.

What’s more, the female workers are not provided with a separate bathhouse for changing clothes or showering. Locked-out worker Alyson Kennedy of Price said, “We won’t stop fighting until we get union representation.”

Of course, this is a much bigger issue than just one between the exploited workers and wealthy owners of the Co-Op mine. UMWA International President Cecil Roberts has called upon all American workers to support the locked-out workers because “an injury to one is an injury to all.” This struggle is proof that workers in this country are still exploited by corporations and it’s proof that if workers don’t speak fluent English, they’re even more vulnerable.

Estrada recently said that we need to, together as a society, stand up to the owners. “That’s the one thing the company didn’t count on. They thought, ‘They’re Mexicans. We can get rid of them.’ They didn’t figure that, sooner or later, a group of workers would be able to find out what their rights are and to fight back for what’s justifiable and what they deserve.”

In most cases, the $100 a month the union gives each worker isn’t enough to feed the families.

Most of the locked-out workers have other expenses, like rent and utilities. And because this is a labor struggle, Kennedy says,

“We won’t go back to work until we get everybody back to work.”

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