Union says arbitrator's ruling must stand in cocaine miner case

By Steve Korris | Aug 31, 2009

CLARKSBURG – Consolidation Coal Company can't overturn an arbitrator's decision preserving the job of a miner who tested positive for cocaine, according to the United Mine Workers of America.

On Aug. 18, union lawyer Charles Donnelly of Charleston filed a counterclaim against Consolidation Coal in its federal suit seeking authority to discharge Markel Koon.

The union's counterclaim seeks to enforce a decision of arbitrator Michael Wolf, who held that Consolidation Coal lacked just cause to discharge Koon.

Donnelly wrote that Wolf's decision was final and binding pursuant to the national collective bargaining agreement.

"By filing this civil suit to vacate the Wolf arbitration decision, Consolidation has failed to abide by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement," he wrote.

According to Consolidation Coal, Koon tested positive for cocaine in a random sample at Robinson Run Mine on New Year's Eve.

Koon admitted using cocaine, according to the company.

Consolidation Coal sent Koon a discharge letter, and the union filed a grievance.

In February, Wolf converted the discharge to suspension without pay and ordered Consolidation Coal to provide drug treatment for Koon.

In May, Carolyn Wade of Steptoe and Johnson in Clarksburg sued the union for the right to discharge Koon.

Wade argued that the national contract, the rules at Robinson Run, state law and federal law all authorized discharge.

"West Virginia and federal law similarly forbid Consolidation from allowing intoxicants and persons under their influence to enter the Robinson Run mine," Wade wrote.

Wade estimated the cost of Koon's rehabilitation at $12,000 to $14,000. She asserted that nothing in the union contract or law obligated the company to provide it.

Donnelly responded in the union's counterclaim that Wolf reached his decision after considering the contract, the rules and the laws.

District Judge Frederick Stamp presides over the case.

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