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Energy West and Deer Creek Miners at Odds on Contract Issues

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Although still in the early stages of contract talks between local unions and Interwest Mining(also know as Energy West), union frustrations are beginning to mount. В Energy West is a subsidiary of Rocky Mountain Power and the unions involved are UMWA Local 1769 Mine workers at the Deer Creek Mine and Local 2176 workers at the Prep plant.

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According to Union media spokesperson, Brian Lee, the issue is over management asking to eliminate the current safety committee. Under the current contract, the union appoints and votes on three miners to be part of the safety committee. That group is able to travel with the mine inspectors and have an input on safety concerns within the mine.

The Union contends that the proposal on the table from Energy West is to do away with the committee and allow the company to appoint who they want to oversee the safety issues. The union also is concerned about wording in the proposed new contract about eliminating the requirement for the mine to shut down for 24 hours after a mining fatality.

With the memory of Crandall Canyon still fresh and raw even after five years, eliminating or cutting back on safety is not contract area that the union feels it can compromise on.

Lee added, “It is important for the community that we never have anymore tragic accidents like we did at Crandall Canyon because of safety.” “Our safety record is not that good anyway, but we have been getting better,” Lee acknowledged, “My understanding is that management has canceled at least four meetings with the union and we are on indefinite hold.”

Energy West spokesperson, Maria O’Mara was reached by phone on Monday and verified that there were talks scheduled with the Union for Tuesday, January 8 and Thursday the 10th.

“We feel that the overall works need to be handled at the bargaining table and not outside the negotiations.” she explained.

O’Mara referred to the previous statement issued by the company, “Energy West Mining Company and the union are still in productive negotiations about a new contract and it is there, at the bargaining table, where the real work to achieve a new contract is done. Safety has been Energy West’s highest concern and the company will continue to ensure that safety is the number one priority. That’s a fundamental point we can all agree on.”

She continued on that the company was prepared to schedule talks into February as needed.

Deer Creek Mine is the last continually operating union mine in the area. Union members are afraid that the company has begun the process of attempting to end that.

“The company has brought in a high paid lawyer from back east. We feel it may be “union busting” in our words”” explained Lee.

The tide has been turning against unions since the Reagan era when the air traffic controllers went on strike and were fired. В Stereotypes exist that the Unions are a bloated, overpaid organizations that allows unproductive workers to draw large salaries while doing nothing. But Lee feels that there has been some of that in the past, but there is not room for that kind of operation now.

“Every corporation has to run efficiently for their bottom line and the workers understand that, too.”

He went on to say that workers deserve to be compensated fairly and be safe while on the job. Miners who have come over from non-union mines have changed their attitudes about how the union really helps them and wonder why they have not made the move sooner. Energy West wants to be able to hire non contract workers, which Lee feels is the beginning of the end for the union presence in Carbon County.

Right now the union officials want to bring the matter to the attention of the public to try and put a little pressure on Energy West. On December 21, a bus load of mine workers headed up to Salt Lake to stage an “informational picket” just to try and make people aware of the changes being proposed.

At this time the union has no plans to go on strike but it remains an option.

“A strike does not benefit anyone, but its hard to fight the big companies with unlimited resources.” stated Lee, “If we have to, we have to.”

Deer Creek Mine has approximately 260-280 miners employed. The mine is located in Emery County up Huntington Canyon. The mine has been operating since about 1966 when it was owned by Peabody Coal. Pacific Corp. acquired ownership of it in 1977 and it is currently operated by Energy West.

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