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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Did coal mine owner force workers to attend political rally?

Coal miners working for one of the largest private coal companies in the United States were allegedly forced to attend an Aug. 14 rally supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The Ohio-based coal company closed the mine for the day, and in possible violation of wage and hour laws, docked the miners' pay.

The wife of a miner said that attendance to the rally was mandatory. The company told workers to come to a local school at 8 a.m. to register their attendance. They then had to spend most of the day waiting to be transported to the rally. An official from the coal company agreed that the workers' attendance was mandatory, but the company forced no one to attend.

Miners said they are periodically pressured to contribute to partisan causes, and the coal company keeps track of which employees donate and who does not. Workers say they sometimes have their paycheck envelopes stuffed with political propaganda. When the coal company's COO was asked why the miners' day's pay had been taken from them, he said that employment decision was within the company's prerogative and losing a day's pay was a small sacrifice for the miners to make. The miners are afraid to disclose their names because they fear employer retaliation.

The coal company may have illegally abridged the miners' personal freedoms of choice. Regardless of the company's statements about attendance, many miners felt like they had to show up at the rally and contribute to causes they may not have endorsed. An experienced labor and employment attorney can often advise employees when they feel their rights at work have been violated.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Ohio miners say they were forced to attend Romney rally," Neela Banerjee, Aug. 29, 2012

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