Striking miners in central Utah are now making plans to return to their jobs after being fired and shut out of a polygamous clan-owned coal mine.
In nine months of striking, the workers picketed, traveled the country speaking at other union gatherings and gained national and international support for their cause. On Thursday, it all paid off when the National Labor Relations Board ordered that their jobs be reinstated, and they plan to march to the mine on Tuesday to inform management they are returning.
United Mine Workers of America, the group organizing the strike against the Co-Op mine in Huntington, is calling the labor board's decision a major breakthrough. They received a draft settlement from the board that orders C.W. Mining Co. to reinstate all miners who were illegally fired.
Last September, 75 coal miners were fired from their jobs at the Co-Op mine, owned by C.W. Mining in Emery County. They were fired after contacting the United Mine Workers about getting a union organized at the mine, said Alyson Kennedy, a member of the strikers' leadership committee.
"We wanted safer conditions, better pay and benefits; in my opinion no coal miner should have to work for minimum wage," Kennedy said. The miners were paid between $5.25 and $7 an hour with no benefits.
A company union has existed at the mine for many years, but all of the officers are bosses and are related to the Kingstons, the wealthy polygamous family that owns the mine, Kennedy said. Before the strike those who contacted the United Mine Workers of America were cornered, harassed and even suspended by the mine's management, she said.
John Kingston has said previously that the 74 miners fired last September staged an "illegal walkout." A phone number for the Kingstons went unanswered Saturday.
The decision, announced on Thursday, states that any type of intimidation or harassment of pro-union miners by the Co-Op management is illegal.
Though the miners, most of them Mexican immigrant workers, have their jobs back, Kennedy said, the fight is not over yet as they will be returning to poor wages, minuscule benefits and unsafe working conditions.
"We are determined to get a real union at this mine, a union contract where the wages and benefits are all negotiated and agreed upon by the workers," Kennedy said.
United Mine Workers has already petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to allow it to represent the miners in contract negotiations. A union election also is scheduled sometime in August in which the miners will choose to be represented by the United Mine Workers of America, the mine's existing union, the International Association of United Workers or no union.
The labor board's decision also includes a back pay order, the exact details of which are being negotiated and may be settled in court.
Nine months can be a long time to go without pay, but the strikers received donations and support from all over the world, including unions in New Zealand, Australia and Britain, Kennedy said.
"It wasn't easy, but nobody suffered hardship," she said. "We really had solidarity and that's the only way you can do things like this."
Many of the workers got jobs at surrounding mines during the strike while others dedicated all their time to it. Besides large donations from other unions, assistance from the Catholic Church and United Mine Workers, strikers also helped each other out when things got tight.