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Coal company from Spike TV series cited by NLRB

By By Paul Nyden
Staff writer

A coal company that hosted a national television series unfairly refused to negotiate a contract with union-represented miners, the National Labor Relations Board ruled last week.

The NLRB issued a decision on Friday criticizing Cobalt Coal and Westchester Coal for unfairly refusing to negotiate a union contract with the United Mine Workers of America.

Cobalt Coal operated a mine in McDowell County that was featured in the Spike TV series “Coal.” The filming took place between Nov. 9, 2010 and Jan. 21, 2011. The show began airing in March 2011, and was canceled after one season.

Federal inspectors who watched the Spike TV series later cited the Canadian-based company for activities they said endangered the miners.

“The NLRB ruling shows our members are owed back pay. We are going to be seeking that pay,” UMWA spokesman Phil Smith said Tuesday. “We are also going to be telling the company it is time to sit down and negotiate a contract. When, and if, they open that mine back up, our members will be working there.

Cobalt Coal Director Al Kroontje declined comment Tuesday. Cobalt President and CEO Mike Crowder did not return a telephone call.

The UMWA filed its charges against Cobalt and related companies on Aug. 13 last year.

The union argued Cobalt violated the law “by failing and refusing to bargain collectively” and “by discriminating against employees for selecting the Union as their collective bargaining representative,” the NLRB ruling states.

Cobalt stopped mining coal at its Westchester mine on Nov. 7, 2012, laying off its union employees.

Eight days later, the NLRB certified the UMWA “as the collective bargaining representative of a unit of production and maintenance employees at the Westchester facility,” the ruling states.

On May 29, 2013, Cobalt contracted with W.F. Coal Sales Inc. to reopen the mine, failing to call its 23 former employees back to work.

Prior to re-opening the mine and failing to call the employees back to their jobs, Cobalt “did not notify the [UMWA] nor give it an opportunity to bargain. The company wanted to “discourage employees from such activities,” such as joining a union, the ruling states.

The NLRB ruling notes Crowder continued meeting with UMWA negotiators “ostensibly for the purpose of negotiating an initial collective-bargaining agreement covering the bargaining unit employees.

“During that period, Crowder engaged in a course of conduct intended to frustrate the collective bargaining process with no intention of reaching agreement,” the ruling states. Crowder repeatedly scheduled, then canceled, meetings. He failed to provide information requested by the union, refused to respond to union proposals and insisted “on proposals that were predictably unacceptable to the union.”

Since June 20, 2013, Crowder engaged in “egregious misconduct,” the ruling states, including: refusing to set future dates for bargaining, contracting out work inside the mine and failing to recall his previous miners back to work.

NLRB Administrative Law Judge Paul Bogas ordered the company to “adhere” to proper bargaining requirements. His legal order requires Cobalt Coal and Westchester Coal to “cease and desist” from “bargaining in bad faith with the United Mine Workers of America” and “engaging in a course of conduct intended to frustrate the bargaining process.”

The order also requires Cobalt to stop “contracting out the coal mining operations previously performed by [union] employees” and to rescind the contract signed with W.F. Coal Sales to operate with non-union contract workers.

Bogas also ordered Cobalt to send notices to each of the 23 miners who were laid off to inform them the company will comply with the NLRB order within 14 days. Cobalt must also inform the NLRB’s regional director, within 21 days, “attesting to the steps that the Respondents [Cobalt and Westchester] have taken to comply with the order.”

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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