Members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) who work at Patriot Coal operations in West Virginia and Kentucky yesterday ratified a settlement the union reached with the company late last week that makes significant improvements in terms and conditions of employment over a federal Bankruptcy Judge’s order from last May.
The final tally was 85% in favor to 15% opposed. Members from 13 local unions participated in the vote, which was overseen by UMWA local union tellers and conducted at worksites. The UMWA International Auditor/Tellers have certified the vote.
“The membership has made it clear that they are willing to do their part to keep Patriot operating, keep their jobs and ensure that thousands of retirees continue getting the health care they depend on and deserve,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “This has been a difficult and uncertain year for our members. But I believe that in the end, they understood that we had done a lot to improve what the judge had ordered. They also understood all that was at stake and resolved to move forward in a positive way.
“But as we work to keep Patriot a viable company into the future, we have not forgotten how we got here and who is responsible,” Roberts said. “With this agreement, we have foiled the schemes of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal by continuing to both provide health care for retirees and maintain union jobs at these mines.”
Roberts noted that the settlement with Patriot does not provide enough resources to fulfill the promise of lifetime health care benefits that Peabody and Arch agreed to provide to thousands of retirees from those companies.
“We are now able to turn our full attention to securing the lifetime health care benefits Peabody and Arch promised these retirees,” Roberts said. “If those companies thought our public effort to highlight their poor corporate citizenship was over, they will quickly find out otherwise. We’re moving into a new phase of that effort, and soon. We fully intend to hold Peabody and Arch accountable.
“It is also more critical than ever that the bipartisan legislative efforts in Congress to provide help to these retirees move forward,” Roberts said. “This settlement has not solved that problem, it has only bought us time to seek a more permanent solution.
“The clock is now ticking towards a day when the funding we have been able to secure for retiree health care benefits will run out,” Roberts said. “It would be unconscionable to leave these senior citizens hanging, wondering if they will be again thrust into the uncertainty they have endured the last 13 months. I urge our friends in Congress on both sides of the aisle to move as fast as they can to renew the government’s promise to these retirees, their dependents and widows.”