An Emery County mining company owned by Utah’s well-known Kingston polygamous clan filed an expansive federal lawsuit Friday afternoon over last fall’s labor dispute and subsequent media coverage.
The 76-page lawsuit asserts that the picketing workers cost the Kingston-owned C.W. Mining Co. some $1 million in lost profits. The suit also names several media organizations, including the Deseret Morning News and four of its reporters that covered the events, and a handful of community groups that expressed support for the picketing workers.
Attorneys F. Mark Hansen and Carl Kingston filed the suit on behalf of the mine, the International Association of United Workers Union and 23 named individuals. Besides lost profits, the lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages.
The lawsuit takes issue with specific statements reported by the various media outlets and attributed to the disenfranchised workers. The statements largely related to working conditions at the mine and the workers’ wages, which were reportedly much lower than the industry standard.
Friday’s lawsuit is similar to one filed in late August in Salt Lake’s 3rd District Court, also alleging defamation against a list of defendants that includes former clan member Mary Ann Kingston, her attorney, the Salt Lake Tribune and the co-founder of an anti-polygamy group.
Hansen said Friday the suits are an effective tool for his clients, who seek relief from alleged injuries suffered from the negative public statements.
“There’s been a lot of defamation going on, and it needs to stop,” Hansen said.
Deseret Morning News managing editor Richard D. Hall said Friday he was surprised by the paper’s inclusion in the lawsuit, which he described as “completely frivolous and without merit.”
Friday’s lawsuit cites hundreds of reportedly defamatory statements made in the course of the mine dispute, such as:
• A former union miner who encouraged picketers in November 2003, saying, “Everyone knows the Kingstons have been abusing the people at this mine for years,” as reported in The Militant, a publication of the Socialist Workers Party.
• A comment by Bishop George Niederauer of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City who said the C.W. Mining Co. was denying its workers the right to fair wages, safe working conditions and to associate as workers, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.
• A statement from Susan Vogel, of the social advocacy group CodePink, that the mine was a “heinous polygamist engine of the Kingstons,” as reported by the Deseret Morning News.
The Militant and 22 of its employees are among the defendants named in Friday’s complaint, as well as Bishop Niederauer and Vogel. Rowenna Erickson, a former member of the Kingston clan and co-founder of the group Tapestry Against Polygamy, is also among the nearly 100 individual defendants and some two dozen organizations.
Erickson, who is also named in last month’s lawsuit, said the lawsuits will not prevent her from speaking out against what she sees as the crimes of polygamy.
“I’m not worried. With all my heart, I feel very peaceful about what I’m doing,” Erickson said. “I couldn’t stand by any longer, because I was very much aware of the criminal acts that were being perpetrated by these people.”
Though she doesn’t remember speaking publicly about the mine dispute, Erickson has been very vocal about other issues involving the Kingstons.
The labor dispute at the C.W. Mining Co. began in September 2003, when, protesting what they said were low wages and exploitative work conditions, about 80 miners walked off the job. After the walkout, managers at the Huntington, Emery County, mine locked out employees, preventing them from returning to their duties, and then fired them.
The walkout drew the attention of the United Mine Workers, which filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. NLRB investigated and negotiated a settlement between the workers and the Kingstons in June, which resulted in offers to rehire 49 of the 74 fired workers.
At the time of the strike and in the months since, embittered workers have picketed other Kingston-owned businesses to bring attention to their cause and have garnered the support of numerous community organizations, most of which are named as co-defendants in Friday’s suit.
Contributing: Jennifer Dobner