The National Labor Relations Board on Sept. 28 ruled that Mammoth Coal, then a subsidiary of Massey Energy, broke the law when it refused to hire former union workers at a southern West Virginia coal mine it purchased in 2004 from the bankruptcy estate of Horizon Natural Resources.
Workers at the mine, formerly known as the Cannelton mine, had been represented by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) since the 1940s. Horizon founder Larry Addington had acquired the mine with the union workforce already in place.
“This is a huge victory for these workers,“ said UMWA International President Cecil Roberts in an Oct. 1 statement. “They have fought eight long years for justice. The real tragedy here is that they had to fight at all, but Don Blankenship and Massey Energy were never very interested in doing the right thing.”
The mine, located in Kanawha County, W. Va., was purchased by Massey from Horizon Natural Resources and operated by its Mammoth subsidiary. The mine was acquired by Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) when it bought Massey in June 2011. Blankenship, the longtime head of Massey, was legendary in the coal business for fighting the UMWA at every turn.
Although the UMWA informed Massey that 250 union miners who had worked there were willing to remain after the sale, Mammoth made a point of avoiding such hires, in fact hiring only 19 former Cannelton miners, in order to convert the mine into a non-union operation, the UMWA noted.
“This ruling requires that 85 of the former workers get back pay, which should run into the millions of dollars,” Roberts said. “It also orders management to restore the former terms and conditions of employment, recognize the UMWA and bargain in good faith. We call on management to sit down with us at the earliest possible time to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement to provide the workers with the strong union contract they deserve.”
Said the board decision about what Massey did later in 2004, after buying this operation in September of that year: “Mammoth began hiring to fill former bargaining unit positions on December 3. Previously, by letter dated November 18, the Union had informed Mammoth that 250 of the mine employees were willing to return to work. Yet Mammoth did not offer all those employees employment or employment interviews, as it had done with the former nonunit, nonunion employees. To the contrary, as the judge found, ‘the Respondents did not even provide the unit employees with information about how to go about seeking employment at the facility where many had worked for decades.’ Indeed, it appears that Mammoth’s only effort (if it can be called that) to recruit the former Horizon miners consisted of leaving application forms at the facility’s guard station—without generally informing the former unit employees of that fact. Meanwhile, Massey ran newspaper and billboard advertisements in the area seeking experienced underground miners for the Mammoth operation. As the judge found, Massey ‘even had airplanes pull banners with help-wanted advertisements above Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,’ which is a popular vacation spot for West Virginia miners. Mammoth also actively solicited miners at other Massey-owned mines to transfer to Mammoth.”
Alpha said it may now seek mediation in this dispute or appeal the board’s decision.