It was a great showdown Monday, April 29, under very tight security in Gillette, Wyo., with the Mine Workers (UMWA) members and Peabody Energy CEO Gregory Boyce. Five armed Campbell County police officers guarded entrances to the meeting. All UMWA proxy holders were admitted to the meeting room at Gillette College, while six environmental protesters were forced to sit in an "overflow" room, watching on closed-circuit TV.
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.
Berry Craig, recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360. Craig sends us this.
The Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council has endorsed a Mine Workers (UMWA)-sponsored resolution declaring that “as community members and leaders, we believe that Peabody [Energy], Arch [Coal] and Patriot Coal should not be using the bankruptcy process to shed themselves of providing health care and pension obligations to coal miners who put their lives and health at risk every day working for Peabody, Arch and Patriot Coal.”
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.
For a heart-breaking look at how the Republican-engineered dysfunction at the National Labor Relations Board is affecting working men and women, check out Dave Jamieson’s weekend piece in The Huffington Post.
Jamieson chronicles the nine-year ordeal of union coal miners at the Cannelton mine near Smithers, W.Va., who lost their jobs when Massey Energy (since purchased by another mining company after the notorious Upper Big Branch disaster) bought the mine.
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.