For you labor history buffs, Upworthy has a special treat. As part of the Workonomics series that examines the importance of collective action and economic policy that lifts working people and shines a light on inequality, labor history now has its own miniseries.
Members of the Mine Workers (UMWA) are rallying in St. Louis today, encircling the headquarters of Peabody Energy, as part of ongoing efforts to make the company and associated companies live up to the obligations they made to their workers. While the union reached an agreement with Patriot Coal to make sure that retired miners who primarily worked for Peabody receive those benefits, the long-term funding for those benefits has not yet been secured. Those health care costs were spun off into Patriot, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Today's rally is aimed at making Peabody live up to its obligations and fund health care for its retirees.
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker and United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts were among 30 arrested at a rally in West Virginia Tuesday while protesting Patriot Coal's attempts to abandon its commitments to retirees, most of whom worked for Peabody Energy and Arch Coal before those companies created Patriot. Roberts and others say Patriot specifically was created to fail so the original companies could eliminate retiree health care and pension costs.
Thousands rallied Monday outside the Peabody Energy headquarters in St. Louis, and 12 were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience. The rally protested cuts Patriot Coal is scheduled to make after July 1 to retiree health care benefits of former Peabody workers. The workers' benefits were spun off into Patriot in what Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts says was an intentional plan to get out of obligations made to them.
Update: Earlier we reported Patriot Coal left the negotiation table with UMWA. A new report from BNA says Patriot Coal will return to the talks. The company denies it left the negotiations. UMWA told BNA: “We are glad this odd incident is behind us and that Patriot has changed its mind and is willing to return to the bargaining table.”
On Tuesday, negotiators from Patriot Coal walked out of talks with the Mine Workers (UMWA), leaving thousands of retirees in danger of losing their health care. The company also canceled talks scheduled through next week, UMWA reports via press release. UMWA President Cecil Roberts reported that the company and the union were only about $30 million to $35 million apart. Meanwhile, hundreds of high-paid executives at the company will be receiving about $25 million in bonuses.
Declaring that a decision by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kathy Surratt-States amounted to “curb service” for Patriot Coal, Cecil Roberts, president of the Mine Workers (UMWA), told a crowd of more than 4,000 gathered here that the union will never stop its campaign for justice for miners and retirees abandoned by Patriot and its creators, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal.
On Wednesday, Judge Kathy Surratt-States of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri ruled in favor of Patriot Coal in its efforts to eliminate its collective bargaining agreements and get out of commitments made to retirees who worked for Patriot, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. These workers gave years of their lives to making the companies profitable only to be abandoned in their retirement years. The Mine Workers (UMWA) union continues to argue that Patriot was specifically designed to fail in order to dump retiree health care costs. The current CEO of Patriot, Ben Hatfield, agreed with that assessment.
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.