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NLRB Judge throws out company objections to UMWA organizing victory at Willow Lake, rules union should be certified

December 5, 2011
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[Springfield, Ill.] Jeffrey E. Wedekind, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), ruled last Friday that objections filed by Peabody Energy subsidiary Big Ridge Coal Co. to a representation election held last May were “without merit,” and ruled that the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) should be certified as the “employees’ properly elected exclusive collective bargaining representative.”

Wedekind also found that “by threatening employees with mine closure, job loss, and other unspecified reprisals if or because the employees supported the UWMA... the Employer has engaged in unfair labor practices.”

“This ruling reaffirms our victory at Willow Lake, and it brings a renewed sense of hope to the workers at that mine,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said today. “The ruling also shines a strong light of truth on the campaign of fear and intimidation the company terrorized these workers with for months – and has continued to engage in after the election.

“This is the kind of sordid campaign–built on half-truths, twisted facts and outright lies–that coal miners who seek to form a union at their mine are routinely subjected to in the Illinois Basin and elsewhere across the country,” Roberts said, noting that the company even fired a worker during the campaign. The ALJ ordered that worker to be reinstated with full back pay.

“It’s gratifying to see that the ALJ recognized the overt brutality of the company’s negative campaign and ordered it to immediately cease and desist, as well as reinstate the worker it illegally fired in an attempt to intimidate the workforce even further,” Roberts said.

Roberts noted that over 93 percent of the 440 workers at Willow Lake signed a card signifying they wanted UMWA representation last spring, but by the time the company had run its illegal campaign, the union won the election by just 13 votes.

“This is one of the major problems with the way union elections are held in this day and age,” Roberts said. “A company can threaten, lie, cheat and do everything in its power to intimidate the workers to vote against the union, and nothing happens until well after an election. Fortunately though, a measure of justice has been done in this case.”

Roberts urged Big Ridge to come to the bargaining table to begin negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement between the two sides. “These workers have been through a lot,” he said. “They don’t deserve to be subjected to any more of these illegal tactics by the company. The UMWA is prepared to put all that behind us, sit down with the company and reach a reasonable agreement that is fair to both sides. That's all these workers have wanted to do from the very beginning.”

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