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15 Arrested in St. Louis as Thousands Encircle Peabody

September 24, 2013
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Mine Workers Say Company Proposal Excludes Thousands of Retirees and Dependents Who Are Owed Health Care Benefits

St. Louis - Fifteen people were arrested in front of Peabody Energy headquarters today as members of the United Mine Workers and supporters protested the company's continued refusal to pay for health care benefits promised to retired miners, their widows and dependents.

The arrests followed a spirited march and rally during which more than 5,000 protestors briefly blocked traffic in downtown St. Louis, surrounding the Peabody Energy building at 7th and Market Streets.

Among those arrested was Terrence Melvin, President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and Secretary-Treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO. "I've never been in a mine, but today I am a mine worker," Melvin told a roaring crowd.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts told demonstrators that the fight for health care for retired miners is "a faith-based struggle, a civil rights-based struggle," with the potential to "turn America around."

A company statement, issued yesterday, claiming that Peabody had offered to settle "all claims" with the UMWA is not accurate, said Roberts.

"They're already paying, pursuant to a court order, $20 million a year for 3,100 people. The offer they made to us is for $10 million a year for those same 3,100. No thank you. The people who issued that statement want us to sell somebody out, but we're not doing that."

"There are a lot more than 3,100 people that Peabody is responsible for. You can't settle all the claims," said Roberts, "unless you cover all the people."

Dan Duncan, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department, Mike Louis, Secretary-Treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, Claude Cummings, Vice President of CWA District Six, James Gilbert of the Union Veterans Council of America and Rev. Jonathan Stratton of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri also addressed today’s rally.

“We’ve seen what’s going on around this country,” said Duncan, detailing battles over bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana; fights over pension benefits in Detroit; and the elimination of union jobs at Hostess. “And now they think they’re going to do it to the Mine Workers? They’re not doing to do it to any of us.”

Peabody, the world's largest private-sector coal company, reported $90 million in net income in the second quarter of 2013. Peabody executives spun off Patriot Coal in 2007, but did not provide the new firm with sufficient assets to meet its obligations to retired workers and their dependents.

Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy in 2012, and won a federal Bankruptcy Court order which would have drastically reduced health benefits for retired workers, along with severe cuts in pay, benefits and working conditions for active workers.  Last month, UWMA members approved a settlement with Patriot Coal which made significant improvements over the terms and conditions approved by the Court.  The agreement establishes a mechanism for payment of health care benefits for retired miners. However, long-term funding for those benefits has not been secured.

The union's ongoing effort to win full benefits for all affected retired miners includes a lawsuit against Peabody and Arch, filed in West Virginia; legislation in Congress to aid retired miners and their dependents, sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats; and an ongoing public education, advertising and community action campaign.

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