A federal judge has ordered mine operator Big Ridge, Inc. to reinstate an employee who was an outspoken supporter of the United Mine Workers of America and was fired two days after a contentious union election.
The temporary injunction issued April 30 by U.S. District Court Judge G. Patrick Murphy also orders the company to stop threatening employees with job loss or other reprisals because they support the union. It will stay in effect until the NLRB process is complete.
In May 2011, the UMWA won a representation election at the Willow Lake mine in Equality, Ill. by a small margin, following a strong anti-union campaign by the employer. Two days later, the mine operator, Big Ridge, a subsidiary of the Peabody Energy Corp., challenged the election results and fired a veteran employee who was among the most outspoken supporters of the union for reasons found by the Court to be pretextual.
After an investigation of charges filed with the NLRB Regional Office in St. Louis, the Regional Director issued a complaint alleging the company had engaged in numerous unfair labor practices, including firing the union supporter. The case went to a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Wedekind, whose December 2011 decision called for the employee’s reinstatement and the cessation of all other unlawful activity. Big Ridge has appealed that decision to the Board.
In granting the injunction, Judge Murphy noted that the continued absence of the fired employee has chilled support for the union. “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, a subsidiary of Peabody Coal’s non-union business group, is too big for the law and that not even NLRB can do anything to help Willow Lake employees.”