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Arrests as massive anti-Peabody rally blocks traffic

A HUGE union rally outside Peabody Energy’s headquarters in Missouri saw hundreds of supporters encircle the building and ended in 15 arrests – including one of speakers.

Donna Schmidt
Arrests as massive anti-Peabody rally blocks traffic

The United Mine Workers of America did not identify all of those taken into custody during the “spirited march” of more than 5000 protesters at Kiener Plaza, blocking downtown St Louis traffic.

But it did say that one of those arrested was Coalition of Black Trade Unionists president and New York state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Terrence Melvin.

The UMWA was in town to speak up against Peabody’s continued refusal to fund healthcare benefits for thousands of retired miners and dependents.

Union president Cecil Roberts told demonstrators that its fight for healthcare for retired miners was “a faith-based struggle, a civil rights-based struggle,” with the potential to “turn America around”.

He also said that a Peabody statement issued ahead of the rally that claimed the producer had offered to settle “all claims” with the UMWA was not accurate.

“They’re already paying, pursuant to a court order, $US20 million a year for 3100 people,” he said.

“The offer they made to us is for $10 million a year for those same 3100.

“No thankyou. The people who issued that statement want us to sell somebody out, but we’re not doing that.”

The union executive added that the number of people Peabody was responsible for exceeded the 3100 figure.

“You can’t settle all the claims unless you cover all the people,” he said.

Also on hand for the demonstration were AFL-CIO union secretary-treasurer Mike Louis, CWA District 6 vice-president Claude Cummings, Union Veterans Council of America’s James Gilbert and Reverend Jonathan Stratton of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri.

Peabody initially spun off Patriot Coal to be its own entity in 2007, but the UMWA said it did not provide the new company with the needed assets to meet its obligations to retired workers and families.

Patriot went on to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2012, receiving a US Bankruptcy Court order that threatened drastic reductions to health benefits for retired workers, and cuts in pay and benefits for active workers.

UWMA members approved a settlement with Patriot Coal in August that was a significant improvement over those court-approved terms, it said.

While the agreement establishes a mechanism for payment of health care benefits for retired miners, the union says it has still not secured long-term funding for the benefits of its members.

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