ST. LOUIS — Demanding that Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, accept a “card check neutrality” process which would allow its workers to unionize with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), over 100 trade unionists and community activists rallied outside of the annual Peabody shareholders meeting here May 5.

Teresa Mithen, St. Louis-area Jobs with Justice religious co-chair, explained why a card check neutrality process for union recognition is necessary instead of elections run by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB, she said, “has been eroded by the corporations,” and it “doesn’t function in a way that benefits workers.”

Better wages and benefits are important parts of the UMWA “Justice at Peabody” campaign, but miners’ safety is the main concern for the union and its members. And after the recent Sago Mine disaster, safety has become more important than ever.

Of the 26 miners’ deaths this year, 23 were in nonunion mines, while three were in union mines. Union mines are inspected for safety violations more regularly and union members are protected from supervisors who force mine workers into unsafe working conditions.

Peabody operates 28 coal mines in the U.S. and employs nearly 8,000 people. About 30 percent of Peabody’s workers belong to the UMWA.

Outside of the shareholders meeting, Bob Gaydos, UMWA deputy director of organizing, said the union was there to make the miners’ voices heard. “We are not the enemy,” he said. “We are the people who make you millions and millions of dollars a year.”

In 2005, Peabody generated more than $4.6 billion in revenue. Between 2004 and 2005, Peabody’s net income increased 141 percent, while stocks increased 376 percent in the last two years.

In 2004, Peabody CEO Irl Engelhardt made over $7 million and received another $2 million in executive stock options. Engelhardt has an additional $50 million in unexercised stock options. UMWA members and representatives say that Peabody’s CEO’s have made their profits off of the backs of nonunion workers.

Union mines workers’ pay averages $20 an hour, while nonunion mine workers’ pay averages $16 an hour. In real dollars, that means that union mine workers make over $8,000 more per year than nonunion mine workers. With benefits such as health care, paid vacation time, holiday pay and retirement benefits factored in, union mine workers receive an additional $11 more per hour than their nonunion counterparts.

After the rally several UMWA members who are also Peabody shareholders entered the shareholders meeting. The meeting approved a corporate governance reform proposal offered by the AFL-CIO. The proposal urged the annual election of the company’s board of directors.

John Palmer, president of UMWA Local 1570, said, “We are going to fight. Everybody has got to stick together. And we will win.”

Gaydos offered more encouragement. “It takes a lot of courage to work in a mine,” he said. “Don’t quit. Keep going. And you are going to get a union.”