UMWA officials, who have set the demonstration for August 27 beginning at 10am at Keiner Plaza, said profitable coal companies – including Peabody and Arch Coal – should be “part of the solution” after Patriot’s bankruptcy settlement and retiree benefits success.
Among the scheduled speakers are union president Cecil Roberts and secretary-treasurer Dan Kane, Missouri representative Emanuel Cleaver II, Illinois representative Bill Enyart, American Federation of Government Employees president J David Cox, Kentucky AFL-CIO union president Bill Londrigan and Missouri Jobs with Justice executive director Lara Granich.
Roberts said he was appreciative of the Congressional involvement in the forthcoming event.
“One of the things we’re working on is bipartisan federal legislation to help address this issue, and we appreciate their support along with the other members from both parties who have signed on to the legislation,” he said.
“Congress will be back in session next week, and we’re looking forward to making progress there very soon.”
Roberts said the UMWA made the best possible deal it could with Patriot to protect the interests of its members, and that the final collective bargaining agreement made “tremendous and unprecedented improvements over what the bankruptcy judge ordered” previously on May 29.
“But Patriot is still bankrupt, while Peabody and Arch are two of the largest and most successful coal companies in the world,” he said.
“They need to step up to the plate and fulfill the obligations they made to these retirees.”
Roberts said the union felt its members deserved the full health care they were promised.
“Especially now, when retired miners are struggling with black lung disease, cancer, emphysema, broken bones, crushed limbs and all the other things that happen to a person when he or she spends a lifetime working in a coal mine,” he said.
Peabody initially spun off Patriot Coal in 2007. The union said that when the split was made, Peabody did not give Patriot enough assets to cover its obligations.
The following year, Patriot acquired Arch spin-off Magnum Coal, was also spun off with sizeable healthcare obligations for retired miners.
“We will continue to engage with Peabody and Arch until we recover all of what’s needed to make these people whole,” Roberts said.
“It just makes sense for these companies to be part of the solution to a problem they caused in the first place.”
As part of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings that Patriot Coal initially filed last July, the company and the UMWA were able to come to an agreement earlier this month that included substantial improvements to healthcare benefits.
The union also won establishment of a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA), funded by a 35 to 38% stake in the company, a $US0.20 per ton royalty on future Patriot coal production, and other assets allowing for a partial payment of health care benefits to more than retired miners and dependents.