Mine workers, retirees, their families, faith leaders and allies are rallying in St. Louis as bankruptcy court hearings begin in the case of Patriot Coal, which was set up by Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, the Mine Workers (UMWA) argue, purposely to fail in order to shed health care benefits for retirees from Peabody and Arch. UMWA also argues that the Patriot bankruptcy filing is a way to impose severe cutbacks on pay, working conditions and benefits for active miners.
You don’t often read headlines about environmentalists joining forces with coal miners. Environmentalists want to shut down coal plants that pollute our air and water, while miners understandably fight to keep and defend the jobs that the coal industry provides. Between these two forces, there sometimes appears to be little common ground.
As previously reported, the Mine Workers (UMWA) contend that Patriot Coal was set up by Peabody Energy and Arch Coal purposely to fail in order to dump costs associated with retirees who had worked for the two companies. Now Ben Hatfield, the current CEO of Patriot, says that he agrees with UMWA President Cecil Roberts that the creation of Patriot seemed destined to fail. Hatfield was, at the time, CEO of International Coal Group. Patriot recently has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to shed retiree costs, mostly from Peabody and Arch.
Update: 16 people were arrested at the rally, including UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts, after they refused police orders to move away from the Patriot Coal headquarters.
Thousands of people are rallying in Charleston, W.Va., Monday in support of retired workers from Patriot Coal, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. Patriot filed for bankruptcy and is attempting to abandon its responsibilities to pay health care costs for retirees from the three companies, a strategy the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) argue was purposefully done when Patriot was created as a way to shed those costs. Along with current and retired mine workers, the rally includes family members, labor and faith leaders, elected officials and community supporters.
Working families, retirees and their allies are rallying Tuesday at 10 a.m. in St. Louis to call on Patriot Coal to live up to its obligations to pay retiree health care costs. The company filed bankruptcy and is asking to abandon paying health care costs to retirees, most of whom worked for Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, which created Patriot. Mine Workers (UMWA) has charged that Patriot was designed to fail so that the former parent companies could avoid commitments they made to their former workers.
As previously reported, the Mine Workers (UMWA) union has been saying that Patriot Coal was specifically designed to fail so that former parent company Peabody Energy Corp. could eliminate health care costs associated with former workers in their mines. Patriot was originally spun off of Peabody and was started with much of Peabody's obligations to its retired workers, but very little of Peabody's assets. UMWA argued that Patriot was using bankruptcy to get out of living up to those obligations. Now Patriot filed a motion with the bankruptcy court to create a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) to replace the existing retiree health care system. According to UMWA, the VEBA would cover only a fraction of the obligations owed to retired workers and their families.
Working families are continuing to protest the actions of Peabody Energy, which they say is trying to abandon its responsibility to pay health care costs for thousands of retirees who worked for the company. Labor and faith leaders are joining workers and retirees in a St. Louis rally at the headquarters of Peabody.
Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts and nine other union members were arrested in front of Peabody Energy’s corporate headquarters in St. Louis yesterday, as more than 750 members and retirees sang Amazing Grace and held signs calling for fairness. Several of those arrested had oxygen tanks, and many in the crowd were brought to tears as the arrested protesters were peacefully loaded into the sheriff’s van while Which Side Are You On played on the loudspeakers. The protesters arrived at Peabody after marching from federal bankruptcy court, where Patriot Coal’s lawyers were inside. Those arrested were released later in the day, according to the St. Louis City Division of Corrections.
Mine Workers (UMWA) members are rallying in St. Louis today to stand up to Patriot Coal's plan to shed promised health care benefits for tens of thousands of retirees and their dependents. As previously reported, UMWA says Patriot Coal was created to fail so Peabody Energy and Arch Coal—the companies that most of the retirees actually had worked for—could get rid of their obligations to former workers. Fairness at Patriot Now will be live-blogging the rally and will march to Peabody headquarters.
In July, Patriot Coal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York. Among the reasons for Patriot’s financial difficulties were the huge legacy costs related to health care benefits and pensions owed to retirees and widows of former employees. The company's intended goal, it seems, according to the Mine Workers (UMWA), is to get out of obligations to the miners that worked hard for decades, often doing significant damage to their own health.