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Thousands Rally as Mine Workers Fight for Fair Pay, Benefits in Fairmont, W. Va.

date: 
July 9, 2013
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Thousands Rally as Mine Workers Fight for Fair Pay, Benefits in Fairmont, W. Va.

31 Arrested as Community Leaders, Elected Officials Join Growing Protests Against Scheme by Peabody, Arch and Patriot to Avoid Obligations to Active and Retired Miners

Fairmont, West Virginia - More than five thousand people rallied in Fairmont, West Virginia today, supporting the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) campaign for fair pay and benefits for active and retired miners at Patriot Coal.

Protesters filled 29 buses, along with scores of vehicles from Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and other locations.  The crowd heard remarks from community and labor leaders and elected officials, including UMWA President Cecil Roberts, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker.

As the audience stood strong through a steady rain, Holt Baker noted that union members and supporters were not turned back by inclement weather. "That is just the tears of the righteous trying to wash away the injustice of Patriot Coal," she said.

"The United States of America is not great because of CEOs," Roberts said. "It's not great because of lawyers. It's great because of the working people of the United States. This is a faith-based movement, it's a civil rights movement, and it cannot fail.

"We're standing for those afflicted with black lung. We're standing with those who are in hospice care taking their last breath with their priests and ministers and families all around them. We're standing with those who have cancer. We're standing with the afflicted because the Bible tells us, 'Honor your mother and your father."

UMWA Secretary Treasurer Dan Kane reported on a recent visit by a delegation of UMWA members to Brisbane, Australia. Hundreds of members belonging to the Construction, Mining, Forestry and Energy Union (CMFEU), some walking off their jobs, rallied at Peabody facilities in support of  UMWA members.  "They cussed Peabody until a fly wouldn't light on them," said Kane.

Following the rally, 30 people, including Roberts, Baker Holt and Mayor Ed Mahalik of Rivesville, West Virginia were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience. Today's action in Fairmont is the latest in a series of protests against actions by Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, which have led to the inevitable bankruptcy of Patriot Coal.

Patriot, which was created by Peabody in 2007, subsequently acquired Magnum Coal, a company created by Arch Coal and other investors. Patriot, with numerous mining operations in the eastern United States - including the Federal 2 underground coal mine in nearby Fairview, W. Va. - was never provided with sufficient assets to meet its obligations to retired workers, and filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

Patriot implemented cutbacks in pay, benefits and safety protections for active miners earlier this month, acting under authority granted by a judge in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis in May. The company had also threatened to effectively eliminate health care for retired miners on July 1, but has agreed to continue benefits in July and August.  The UMWA is in ongoing negotiations with the company, working to protect health care benefits for retired miners and to improve pay, benefits and working conditions for active miners over what the judge ordered.

The UMWA has mounted a comprehensive legal, legislative, public education and citizen mobilization campaign in support of active and retired miners.

A lawsuit on behalf of UMWA members, filed in federal court in Charleston, West Virginia, charges that Peabody and Arch violated the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by scheming to eliminate contractually-guaranteed lifetime health care benefits for retirees.  UMWA members are also working with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to pursue legislative remedies.

Additional information about the UMWA campaign, including a video feed from today's rally, is available at FairnessAtPatriot.org.

Those arrested during today's protest in Fairmont include:

UMWA President Cecil Roberts

UMWA Secretary Treasurer Dan Kane

AFLCIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker

UMWA Int'l Vice Pres. and West Virginia House of Delegates Majority Whip Mike Caputo

UMWA International at Large Vice President Donnie Samms

Rev. Richard Bowyer

Rev. Donald Prange

Fr. Andy Switzer

Mayor Ed Mahalik, Rivesville, W. Va.

Peggy Reynolds, UMWA Local Union 1570 Women's Auxiliary

Tina Caputo, UMWA Local Union 1570 Women's Auxiliary

Beverly Alvarez, UMWA Local Union 1570 Women's Auxiliary

Joni Sanders, UMWA Local Union 1570 Women's Auxiliary

Sherry Lepka, UMWA Local Union 1570 Women's Auxiliary

Eva Jarvis, UMWA Local Union 1570 Women's Auxiliary

Benjamin Murray, UMWA Local Union 1702

Grace Murray, spouse of Benjamin Murray

Jimmy Murray, UMWA Local Union 1702 (son of Benjamin and Grace Murray)

Randy Murray, UMWA Local Union 1702 (son of Benjamin and Grace Murray)

Bobby Murray, UMWA Local Union 1702 (son of Benjamin and Grace Murray)

Patsy Ricciuti UMWA Local Union 762

Darrell Bias, UMWA Local Union 1503

David Moore , UMWA Local Union 1503

Dwayne Belcher, UMWA Local Union 781

Mark Dorsey, UMWA Local Union 1702

David Serock, UMWA Local Union 2258

Tanya James, UMWA Local Union 9909

Joe Reynolds, UMWA Local Union 1570

Glenn Switzer, UMWA Local Union 9909

Curtis Burton, UMWA Local Union 2300

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