NLRB orders reinstatement, back pay for striking Utah miners
By Barbara Stinson Lee
Catholic News Service
HUNTINGTON, Utah (CNS) -- Fifty of the original 76 striking miners of
the C.W. Mining Company, surrounded by about 60 supporters, walked from
the site of their former strike shack July 6 and officially turned over
reinstatement letters to a representative of the owners of the Co-Op
mine outside Huntington.
Their gesture signified acceptance of the mine owners' "unconditional
offer of reinstatement" in accordance with a settlement agreement
between the National Labor Relations Board and the mining company.
The strike that resulted in the miners' firing began more than nine
months earlier on Sept. 22, 2003. The miners agreed to return to work
In its ruling, the NLRB said the miners were fired illegally, that
they deserved to be "reinstated to their former jobs or to substantially
equivalent positions, without prejudice to seniority or any other rights
or privileges previously enjoyed, displacing, if necessary, any
employees hired to replace them," and that they should receive back pay,
which is yet to be determined.
Marching in solidarity with the returning miners were members of the
United Mine Workers of America, representatives of Jobs for Justice and
of the Salt Lake City Diocese, union workers from Colorado, and members
of Mission San Rafael, the tiny Catholic community in Huntington that
has been paying rent and utilities for the miners from its charity
"This has been a hard, hard fight, and without the support of the
Catholic Church, these miners never would have made it," said Ed Henkel,
a miner from Rangely, Colo.
Bernie Senter, a heavy equipment operator and union man from Craig,
Colo., said the strike was one of the hardest fought he has seen, but
one of the best supported.
"The support they received from a community of conscience and the
union community has been so important," he said. "These miners have gone
through so much, but they knew they were never alone."
Strike leader Bill Estrada told the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper
of the Salt Lake City Diocese, that although there is still a lot of
hard work ahead "I am optimistic that we will achieve what we have been
"We went on strike so that we can be treated with dignity, earn fair
wages and be fairly represented by a union, not (a union) of the bosses,
which the mine has offered us, but of the workers, which we deserve," he
The miners' reinstatement letters were officially received by Charles
Reynolds, personnel manager of the Co-Op Mine, as the C.W. Mining Co. is
In the settlement agreement, the mining company, which is owned by the
Kingston family, made no admission of any unfair labor practices.
The strikers claimed that they were paid about one-third the average
wage of miners in the area. They also said the union that mine owners
said was formed to represent the workers, the International Association
of United Workers Union, is only active at the Co-Op Mine, meets on
company property and is made up largely of the mine bosses.
"All of the miners here today are letting the company know that we are
going back to work," Estrada said earlier in the day as marchers
gathered. "Now we know that we have rights we didn't know we had
Still to be settled are the issues of back pay, insurance and safety
issues, and a more equitable pay scale.
Estrada said he is confident the miners' concerns will be adequately
addressed after a meeting later in July at which miners will be able to
vote on which union will represent them in dealings with their
"With the union election, we will work for better wages, improved mine
safety and more equitable pay," Estrada said. "It is important that we
stay united in order to receive the benefits the NLRB has given us."
During the strike, some of the original miners who had walked off the
job returned to work or got jobs at other mines in the area. Others
returned to their homes in Mexico, and according to Estrada "some are
Father Donald E. Hope, pastor of Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish in Price
and Mission San Rafael, said it is his hope that this miners' strike
will result in a change of behavior on the part of the owners of the
"What is needed here over the long term is the development of a
conscience on the part of the C.W. Mining Co.," he said. "They need to
take the necessary steps to give their workers basic human rights. The
attitude of the corporation has to change, or we'll just see the same
thing happen again three months down the line."