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Federal judge issues injunction against Peabody subsidiary, supports UMWA organizing win

May 1, 2012
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[TRIANGLE, VA.]  U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Murphy of the Southern District of Illinois issued a ruling yesterday granting an injunction sought by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordering Big Ridge Mining, a subsidiary of Peabody Energy, to cease engaging in anti-union threats and reprisals at its Willow Lake mine. Judge Murphy also ordered the company to reinstate a miner the company illegally fired after the UMWA won a May 2011 organizing campaign at the southern Illinois mine.

“In the Court’s view, failure to issue a Section 10(j) injunction in this case will send a clear message to Willow Lake employees that Big Ridge... is too big for the law and not even the NLRB can do anything to help Willow Lake employees,” Murphy wrote in his decision.

“Big Ridge’s actions have dramatically shifted the status quo between itself and its employees by refusing to bargain with the employees’ representative and retaliating against vocal UMWA supporters,” Murphy said. “Moreover, as time passes, Big Ridge’s actions diminish UMWA’s ability to organize and effectively represent Big Ridge’s employees after NLRB issues its final decision.”

The UMWA filed for an election last year with more than 93 percent of employees signed on cards authorizing the union to be their collective bargaining representative. After an intense and illegal anti-union campaign by the company, the union won a close vote in May 2011. The company has refused to recognize the UMWA as the workers’ representative even though a NLRB Administrative Law Judge has rejected the company’s objections to the outcome of the election.

“Big Ridge’s employees are currently suffering significant harm due to the employer’s refusal to bargain collectively with their chosen representative, and UMWA’s ability to represent the employees’ interests in the future will likely suffer irreparable harm in the absence of interim injunctive relief,” Murphy said.

Murphy ordered the company to cease:

•    Threatening employees with mine closure, job loss or other unspecified reprisals because they support the UMWA; 
•    Promising employees benefits if they oppose the UMWA;
•    Discharging or otherwise discriminating against employees because they support the UMWA or discouraging employees from supporting the UMWA.

Murphy also ordered Big Ridge to offer immediate reinstatement to the fired employee, Wade Waller, a miner with 28 years of experience, seven of them at Willow Lake.

“This represents yet another decision that completely repudiates the company’s actions during and after this election, and strongly supports the workers’ decision to elect the UMWA to be their collective bargaining representative,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said.

“The UMWA has been prepared to sit down at the bargaining table with the company since the day we won the election,” Roberts said. “It’s long past time for these workers to have the fair contract they deserve. I once again call on the company to put aside its campaign of threats and intimidation, and sit down with us so we can negotiate a reasonable contract that is fair for everyone involved.”

Click here for a copy of the decision.

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