UMWA, Peabody find common ground for miners

THE United Mine Workers of America has come to an agreement with Peabody Energy allowing its workers freedom to choose or not choose union membership, a US union federation announced Thursday.

Donna Schmidt

The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), of which the UMWA is a member, said that Peabody Energy would be adding guarantees on workers rights, based on International Labor Organization (ILO) standards, to its business conduct and ethics code.

UMWA president Cecil Roberts said he hoped the agreement would come to fruition in the near future.

“We are pleased that, at the UMWA’s urging, Peabody's board of directors has agreed to make an explicit commitment to workers’ rights, and we salute them for doing so.

“But the proof will be in the pudding. We urge Peabody Energy to implement these policies immediately so that Peabody's reputation is not damaged by abusing workers’ rights in the way that other coal companies have in the last few months.”

Those commitments, the AFL-CIO said, include:

The freedom of workers to choose to establish or join a union, including collective bargaining;

Non-use of forced labour and the ability to choose one’s employment of free will; and

A passage that the company and all of its divisions will be “committed to providing a safe and healthy workplace” and continuously work to minimise or avoid potential workplace incidents.

Peabody also, according to the union, attempted to suppress a proposal brought forth in January of this year to follow the ILO conventions for basic rights of labour, which was added to the company’s proxy statement for its shareholders. When the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) refused to strike the proposal from the record, Peabody agreed to the union’s request if the group withdrew it themselves.

The AFL-CIO, made up of 54 unions in total, was established in 1955 and now represents more than 9 million US workers throughout various sectors of industry.