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Patriot Coal's moves in bankruptcy court to eliminate retiree health care, gut existing contract are "totally unacceptable,"

March 14, 2013
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[TRIANGLE, VA] Today’s motions by Patriot Coal Corp. in federal bankruptcy court in St. Louis are  “totally unacceptable, unnecessary and put thousands of retired coal miners, their dependents or their widows on the path to financial ruin, worsening health conditions or even death,” United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said today.

Patriot’s motions, pursuant to Chapters 1113 and 1114 of the federal bankruptcy code, seek to radically reshape the current collective bargaining agreement and terminate all retiree health obligations. The company seeks to substitute a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) for the current retiree health care system, but the funding it proposes to provide for the VEBA covers only a tiny fraction of current costs.

“This is the path we have been saying Patriot would take from the very beginning of this bankruptcy last July,” Roberts said. “They’re demanding massive changes to the collective bargaining agreement, and they want to scrap the health care benefits our retirees earned through decades of blood and toil

“These demands by the company are totally unacceptable to the UMWA, and unnecessary for the company’s survival,” Roberts said.

“Peabody Energy and Arch Coal began plotting years ago for this day to come,” Roberts said. “Patriot is now the vehicle through which Peabody’s and Arch’s scheme to rid themselves of their long-term obligations to these retirees is playing out.

“But that does not absolve Patriot,” Roberts said. “The truth is that the depth of relief Patriot seeks isn’t needed. There is a path forward for the company that does not include drastic cuts at the level the company has proposed and we will demonstrate that in court.”

Patriot’s filings come just days before it goes into the bankruptcy court and argues it should be allowed to pay nearly $7 million in bonuses to executives and managers. “That $7 million would pay for a lot of oxygen bottles for the black lung sufferers. If Patriot is successful, these retirees will soon face a cruel decision between getting the oxygen they need to survive or eating,” Roberts said.

The UMWA and Patriot have been in meetings for the past several months in an attempt to reach a fair agreement that would keep the draconian cuts Patriot is seeking from being imposed by the bankruptcy court. Roberts said the union will continue to talk with the company.

“We remain on two paths in our fight for fairness and justice,” Roberts said. “We will continue to meet with Patriot in the hopes that something fair for both sides can be worked out. But at the same time we will continue to make our case in the streets of St. Louis, in Charleston, W. Va., and anywhere else we need to be.

“Lawyers will do what lawyers do, courts will do what courts do,” Roberts said. “What working families do when they fight for justice is get out, get loud, and demand to be heard. We will continue to do that.

“And as we do, more and more of our members are wondering which side national, state and local politicians, community leaders and religious leaders are on,” Roberts said. “For those who haven’t already answered that question, the time is now. Get off the fence and choose.”

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