UMWA members support settlement

UNITED Mineworkers of America members have voted in favor of the union’s settlement with Patriot Coal, ending more than a year of conflict between the two groups.
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An UMWA protest against Patriot Coal

Staff Reporter

The tentative deal over conditions of employment was settled last Friday and ratified by union members following a vote at Patriot subsidiary workplaces in West Virginia and Kentucky on August 16.

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 certified by the UMWA international auditor.

UMWA president Cecil Roberts said the final settlement was a “significant improvement” over the federal bankruptcy judge’s order in May.

“This has been a difficult and uncertain year for our members,” Roberts said in a statement Friday.

“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.”

According to details released by UMWA last week, the five-year labor agreement restores all but $1 per hour in wage cuts, versus previous plans for cuts as high as $7.53 per hour for some job classifications.

If the vote is approved, workers will get annual wage increases of 50c per hour beginning January 1 2015 and monthly premiums for healthcare benefits will be eliminated.

Patriot will remain in the UMWA 1974 Pension Fund under the agreement, so current retirees will not suffer an impact on pension benefits.

Additionally, active members will continue to earn pension credit.

The UMWA-Patriot deal would also have a 60% cut in annual out-of-pocket maximums for healthcare benefits from $4000 to $1600 and the membership would have its life insurance benefits, vision care benefits, dental insurance and accidental death and dismemberment insurance restored.

Finally, a voluntary employee benefit association, funded by initial contributions from Patriot, would be formed as a way to pay retiree healthcare benefits going forward.

UMWA will also have a 35-38% stake in the producer.

Once that interest is sold, the funds will go back into the VEBA along with an ongoing 20c per ton coal royalty from Patriot mines.

Patriot Coal president and chief executive officer Bennett Hatfield said the agreements should help Patriot emerge from bankruptcy by the end of 2013.

“Ratification of these agreements provides labor stability and ensures cost savings essential to Patriot's plan of reorganization," Hatfield said.

But Roberts said despite the success of the settlement, the union had not forgotten “how we got here and who is responsible”

“We are now able to turn our full attention to securing the lifetime healthcare 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.”

Roberts urged Congress to progress legislative efforts to enforce the security of lifetime healthcare benefits, adding that the settlement had not solved the problem but only bought the union more time to find a more permanent solution to prevent the funding for benefits from “running out”

A motion seeking authorization to enter into the agreements has been filed with the Bankruptcy Court in St Louis and will be heard at an August 20 omnibus hearing.

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