"Energy West and the union are still in the early stages of bargaining a new contract and it is there, at the bargaining table, where the real work to achieve a new contract is done," said mining company spokeswoman Maria O'Mara. "Safety has been Energy West's highest concern, and the company will continue to ensure that safety is the number one priority."
Even if an agreement is not reached by Jan. 2, she added, the two sides have agreed to continue talks before a strike occurs.
The miners object to a company demand that Deer Creek's union safety committee be cut from 14 members to three in the new agreement, said local union leader Brad Timothy of Wellington.
Noting that Deer Creek's workings occupy an area larger than the Salt Lake Valley, Timothy said "it's so big they would never be able to inspect the mine for safety problems. Three guys couldn't do it if they did it all day every day."
His colleague, Ralph Keele from Price, added that the company also wants to take away the miners' right to elect their own safety committee members, and to appoint the three-person unit. "They want to get the people in there that they want, and if they don't do what they want, they'll replace the bunch," he said. "We put in people who stand up for our safety rights and are not intimidated by the company."
O'Mara said the company believes reducing the size of the safety committee will make it more efficient. "Proposing changes to the committee size in no way affects the safe operations of the mine," she added.
Keele said the miners came to Salt Lake City to get the public behind their position. "We want the people's support. Coal mining is dangerous. We want to be able to come home from work every night."