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2/28/2006

U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan supports Peabody Energy coal miners’ right to organize






Source: Justice At Peabody

ST. LOUIS-- U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) today pledged his support for coal miners employed at Peabody Energy Corp. who are trying to form a union, and urged the company to remain neutral in the miners’ struggle for unionization. Peabody is headquartered in St. Louis near Carnahan’s congressional district.

"I support the rights of all Americans to organize in their workplaces,” said Carnahan. “Today I stand with coal miners from Peabody Energy and encourage them in their efforts to organize with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and I urge Peabody Energy to remain neutral when it comes to its employees' choice to form a union.”

Hundreds of non-union miners at Peabody Energy’s facilities across the country have requested assistance from the UMWA to organize a union. In December, the UMWA responded by launching the Justice at Peabody campaign.

Rep. Carnahan’s statement echoed his speech to a crowd of well over 1,200 Peabody Energy workers and community leaders at the UMWA’s December organizing campaign kick-off in front of the company’s headquarters in St. Louis.

“Provisions in the U.S. labor laws to prevent employer pressure on employees who seek to organize unions are either too weak or non-existent,” Carnahan said. “I have consistently advocated in Congress for legislation, like the Employee Free Choice Act, that ensures that American workers receive the rights and protections that they deserve.”

Carnahan is a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act and is a strong advocate of a workers’ right to form a union free from employer threats, harassment and intimidation. The Employee Free Choice Act requires employer neutrality during organizing campaigns and union recognition upon a majority of employees signing cards stating their desire to be part of a union. The pending legislation, which also establishes stronger penalties for violation of employee rights, has gained bipartisan support with 208 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives and the 42 co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate.

“We warmly welcome Congressman Carnahan’s support for these miners’ right to join a union of their choice,” said UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts. “In such a dangerous industry, miners need to be empowered to have a voice in their workplace.”

Statement from Congressman Russ Carnahan:

"I support the rights of all Americans to organize in their work places. Today I stand with coal miners from Peabody Energy and encourage them in their efforts to organize with the United Mine Workers of America. I urge Peabody Energy to remain neutral when it comes to its employees' choice to form a union.

Many of America's most successful companies have concluded that a non-adversarial relationship with unions is mutually beneficial.Provisions in the U.S. labor laws to prevent employer pressure on employees who seek to organize unions are either too weak or non-existent. I have consistently advocated in Congress for legislation, like the Employee Free Choice Act, that ensures that American workers receive the rights and protections that they deserve. The Employee Free Choice Act requires employer neutrality during organizing campaigns and union recognition upon a majority of employees signing cards stating their desire to be part of a union.

It is just good business when companies protect the basic human and labor rights of their workers and respect their right to organize a union."

2/20/2006

Massey Energy's insult to Kentucky workers is outrageous

Source: UMWA

Massey insult to Kentucky workers outrageous, UMWA President Roberts says
Proposal to hire non-English speaking workers a scam to lower wages, benefits for all Massey miners


A proposal by a Massey Energy subsidiary to hire non-English speaking workers from Mexico to fully staff a mine in Eastern Kentucky because the company says there is a lowered work ethic and rampant drug abuse among workers in the region is simply outrageous, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts said today.

This is the equivalent of an obscene gesture from Massey to every working man and woman in Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia, Roberts said. It says a lot about what Massey thinks about the people who live and work there.

Noting that over 12,000 people have received training and been issued mining certificates from the state of Kentucky over the last two years, Roberts said, There are thousands of people in Kentucky and Southern West Virginia who are eager to go to work in the coal mines. All they're asking for is a decent job, with fair treatment and safe working conditions. If Massey is having trouble hiring qualified miners, perhaps the company needs to look at how it treats its workers and what the safety conditions are in its mines.

The truth is that this isn't about the work ethic or the sobriety of workers in Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia, Roberts said. This is really the first step in a scam by coal operators like Massey which are trying to find ways to slash wages and benefits for all miners, whether they're American citizens or immigrants. If Massey is able to get away with doing this, they'll be able to push down wages and benefits for every miner they employ in every non-union mine they operate by threatening to replace them with immigrants if the current miners don't go along.

The UMWA does not oppose Latino workers in America's coal mines. We're fighting right now for Mexican immigrants in Utah who are struggling to form a union at their mine after being exploited for years,Roberts said. Over 40 Mexican immigrants at C.W. Mining's Co-Op mine in Huntington, Ut. have been trying to organize with the UMWA for over two years, and are awaiting a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board upholding their December, 2004 representation election.

C. W Mining was paying these workers under $8.00 per hour, with no benefits, Roberts said. Working conditions in the Co-Op mine were terrible, and the workers were subjected to intimidation and harassment if they spoke up. The company used their immigrant status as a weapon against them, and tried to exploit these immigrants lack of knowledge about their rights under American law to keep them under the company's thumb.

Now Massey comes along and is trying to set up the same scenario in Eastern Kentucky, Roberts said. We've seen this before. Our Union was founded by immigrants who were brought to this country by the coal barons of the late 19th Century. They couldn't speak to each other. The companies exploited them, playing one group off the other and keeping each suspicious of the other. They courageously overcame all that to form the UMWA in 1890.

We welcome diversity in our Union, because we know it makes us stronger,Roberts said. And we will fight against exploitation of miners wherever it occurs and to whomever it occurs.

UNION OFFICIAL SAYS MINER SHORTAGE A “FARCE”
(Combined news reports)

COAL RUN, KY - - - A United Mine Workers of America union official said talk of a shortage of coal miners in Kentucky is “the biggest farce out there right now,” and a movement to bring Mexican miners to the Appalachian coalfields is seen as an effort to reduce mining costs through lower wages.

United Mine Workers union organizer Tim Miller said a miners' shortage is nonsense.

In the past two years, the state of Kentucky has issued nearly 13,000 "green cards" - inexperienced miner's work permits. During a recent week, Kentucky labor officials counted 7,187 people actively seeking coal mining work, 5,390 of whom claimed prior mining experience.

Miller, one of the state mining board's seven members, said there are 1,400 laid-off union miners in western Kentucky who could go to work today. He echoed the sentiments of many who believe the industry is simply hoping to exploit Hispanics and drive down wages.

"They want people who don't have the ability to protect themselves," Miller said.

"If they can flood the market with Hispanic workers, if they can get away with paying a guy $8 an hour, the next guy will be willing to work for $7."

Miller's comments were in response to Sidney Coal Co. President Charlie Bearse's plea to the state mining board to allow non-English speaking miners to obtain “green cards” and work in Kentucky's mining industry.

In a letter to the board, Bearse said, “"It is common knowledge that the work ethic of the Eastern Kentucky worker has declined from where it once was," Bearse wrote to the state mining board. Bad attitudes and drug abuse, he argued, were affecting attendance "and, ultimately, productivity."

Bearse said more than a third of his 800 employees have been hired in the past year. Sidney, a subsidiary of No. 4 U.S. coal producer Massey Energy of Richmond, Virginia, has recruited miners from out West and advertised as far away as Charlotte, N.C., but still can't fill its rosters.

So Bearse turned to Hispanic workers already on his payroll and asked if they had a dozen or so relatives or friends who might consider taking part in a "pilot program." He emphasized they would get the same wages and benefits as the company's other miners.

Bearse's request has been tabled by the board for the moment.

2/16/2006

Dept. of Labor Cuts Budget, Urges Flexibility

Source: Press Associates, Inc. (PAI)

WASHINGTON (PAI) — GOP President George W. Bush’s proposed Labor Department budget for the year starting Oct. 1 again pushes worker training “flexibility,” an idea that previously sank from sight even in the GOP-run Congress. In her Feb. 6 press conference on her agency’s proposed $54 billion spending plan, Chao highlighted what she said was an increase in DOL’s budget, and said it would go to improve workforce competitiveness.

But the budget proposals she released include a $3.2 billion increase in mandatory programs, such as unemployment benefits and black lung payments. Funding for job training, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other “discretionary” programs dropped by $400 million.

The centerpiece of DOL’s spending plan, and an idea Bush touted in his State of the Union address the week before, was workforce retraining. “We must prepare workers to compete in the 21st century economy,” Chao said.

To do that, Bush and Chao propose combining four worker training programs into one “funding stream,” and use it to pay for Bush’s “Career Advancement Accounts.” She said the $3.4 billion program would let 800,000 workers nationwide get grants of $3,000 each to retrain themselves in any way they choose in new skills for new jobs.

The states would run the accounts “and that gives governors greater flexibility to create programs” tailored to their workers, Chao added. Bush proposed the same idea last year. Congress rejected it. The AFL-CIO didn’t like it then — and doesn’t like it now.Bush’s budget has “reprehensible” cuts in programs for workers, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said. Its cuts in job training, Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers who lose jobs to subsidized imports, and lack of new funds for job safety and health and mine safety and health are “one more indication of the indifference of the Bush administration to the real needs of working families,” he added in a statement.

Chao also touted DOL’s immediate response — $274 million in grants and aid in the first weeks — to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation last August. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Feb. 2 that the January jobless rate among the half of all Katrina-hit workers who have not returned home is 26.3 percent.

Chao answered a question about how the budget would help them by saying: “A lot of the population…left in the aftermath and they were able to access assistance programs regardless of where they were. Many have found permanent jobs elsewhere and other opportunities.”