UMWA rallies to move Patriot bankruptcy case

MEMBERS of the United Mine Workers of America took to the streets of West Virginia’s capital city in a rally and march to demand Patriot Coal’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, filed in New York, be moved to Charleston’s federal court.

Donna Schmidt

The union, very vocal on the topic since the producer announced its bankruptcy filing in July, said it wanted to see the reorganization moved to the Southern District of West Virginia because it is “a case about coal and coal miners who live here in the coalfields”, according to president Cecil Roberts.

“These active and retired members and their families are the people who will be most affected by this bankruptcy,” he said.

“We intend to do whatever it takes to protect the health care they earned."

He again spotlighted Patriot’s move to file in New York after establishing company arms there just weeks before filing for Chapter 11. It otherwise had no prior presence in the state.

“No-one has ever mined an ounce of coal in Manhattan,” Roberts said.

“Setting up dummy corporations to cherry-pick a legal venue, like Patriot did, is morally wrong. This case belongs in Charleston, not Manhattan.”

The UMWA held the rally to align with a Manhattan hearing this week to evaluate the union’s request for a change of venue. The US Department of Justice’s US Trustee sided with the group late last month, noting the case should be transferred “in the interests of justice”

“We did not go looking for this fight. But if a fight is what they want they came to the right place,” one rally speaker said, according to West Virginia MetroNews.

“Now we got a bunch of corporate greedy executives in New York that want to take our healthcare and our pensions away that you worked for, that you earned and you deserve -- I say no.”

The bankruptcy could potentially take away the health benefits and pensions of both current and former employees of Patriot. Some of those impacted worked for Peabody Coal, which spun off Patriot, and had never worked for Patriot itself.

“We're concerned about it, you know," UMWA District 17’s Joe Carter told the outlet.

“This affects a lot of people. There's more than 12,000 retirees and there's 2000 active workers, and actually it affects about 22,000 people.”

The UMWA said that it will strike if it has to.

Patriot filed for bankruptcy protection on July 9 and has since received bankruptcy court approval for a $US802 million debtor-in-possession finance package.

The company blamed cancelled contracts, rising costs and plummeting coal prices for its woes. It tried reducing production, but that proved unsuccessful.

The case is In re Patriot Coal Corp., 12-12900, in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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