Miners union challenging no-chewing tobacco policy

Miners union challenging no-chewing tobacco policy

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Miners are challenging a new policy that is prohibiting workers at two Utah operations from chewing tobacco on the job.

The policy went into effect on July 1 at the Deer Creek mine and Castle Dale preparation plant in Emery County. The operations are run by Energy West Mining Co., the unionized coal mining subsidiary of Rocky Mountain Power.

An arbitrator is scheduled to hear the United Mine Workers of America's challenge to the policy on Wednesday.

The policy is consistent across MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., one of Rocky Mountain's parent companies, said Dave Eskelsen, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power.

"The company is concerned about the health and safety of its employees," Eskelsen said. "A tobacco-free workplace is healthier and safer for everyone."

But Dave Maggio, the union's international representative from the district that includes Utah, said miners have more pressing health concerns like black lung disease, inhaling diesel fumes and back, knee and ankle injuries.

"But we've seen no ill effects from chewing tobacco. None. And I've been in this industry 30 years," he said. "Nobody can point to a guy and say, 'He missed a shift because of chewing tobacco.' (Company) time and money could be better spent trying to alleviate things causing a lot more problems."

Union officials filed a grievance after the policy was announced last December. They said the policy would violate the collective bargaining agreement covering 276 Deer Creek miners and 17 prep plant workers.

The union said more than 100 miners are addicted to smokeless tobacco and Maggio said provisions in the policy designating underground areas where workers could chew during breaks and before and after shifts were impractical.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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