Union fumes as judge�s ruling backs Horizon

DESPITE protests outside the courthouse and a fervent campaign by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), a federal bankruptcy court judge has ruled in favor of Horizon Natural Resources to void its union contracts, a decision that will eliminate medical coverage for thousands of coal miners.

Angie Tomlinson

Miners had asked U.S. bankruptcy judge William Howard to require Horizon to stand by the labor contracts protecting health care and retirement benefits for 1,000 active miners and about 2,300 retirees.

The ruling incited an immediate protest from the UMWA, with Union president Cecil Roberts branding the decision "a complete and utter travesty of justice".

"These workers did absolutely nothing wrong. They worked hard, did what was expected and accepted lower wages for the promise of health care, but look where that got them. They've been left high and dry. No health care and no job rights,” said Roberts.

Horizon have endeavored to shed its union contracts to make its assets more attractive to buyers. In Howard’s ruling he said financial obligations related to union contracts and the union's retirement plan made Horizon’s assets unattractive to potential buyers. The company's assets are scheduled to be auctioned on August 17.

Horizon filed for bankruptcy in November 2002. The company's assets, valued at less than $1 billion, are being sold in an attempt to satisfy about $1 billion in debts and other obligations.