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UMWA Miners, Retirees and Families Protest Cut-off of Retiree Health Care at Peabody HQ in St. Louis

date: 
February 13, 2013
For immediate release?: 
 

St. Louis - More than 1,000 active and retired coal miners and their families from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, marched on Peabody Energy Headquarters in St. Louis today.

Ten people were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience in front of Peabody's office tower in downtown St. Louis, including United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Secretary-Treasurer Dan Kane.

The rally, organized by the UMWA to protest financial maneuvers which threaten to cut off health care benefits to former Peabody Energy employees, was also joined by union and community supporters, including members of the UAW, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and Jobs with Justice.

The event came a day after Patriot executives filed a motion in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis, seeking $6 million in "retention bonuses" for 120 "key executives" at Patriot Coal, while the company is demanding a cut-off of health care benefits to more than 22,000 retirees in desperate need of ongoing medical care.

"Peabody executives may know how to wheel and deal and hire $900-an-hour corporate lawyers," said Kane. "But they don't know the United Mine Workers. We're not going to abandon our retirees, who spent their lives working underground and now must have the benefits they were promised."

"If I can't get my medication for my heart disease, I won't be around much longer," said Shirley Inman, a retired member of UMWA Local 2286 from Madison, West Virginia, who was among those arrested today. "I'm a breast cancer survivor and I have coronary artery disease. Health care isn't an option for me; it's what I need to survive. I'll do whatever it takes to make these corporate executives keep the promises they made - and if that means going to jail, so be it."

Inman spent 18 years driving a coal truck for Arch Coal in West Virginia.  In 2007, Arch Coal, along with Peabody Energy, spun off a large chunk of its health care and retirement obligations to a new entity called Patriot Coal.

Peabody assigned Patriot some 40 percent of its health care and pension liabilities but gave the new company only about 10 percent of its revenue-producing assets, and Arch Coal made a similar assignment of assets and liabilities. To no one's surprise, Patriot was not financially viable in a normal coal market, and the new company filed for bankruptcy protection in New York in July of this year.

At the request of UMWA, the case was transferred to St. Louis, closer to homes of more than 22,000 retired mine workers who are former Peabody and Arch employees, and are at immediate risk of losing their health care.

"We're enormously grateful to the union and community members who came out to support us today," said Kane. "We're in this fight for as long as it takes, and we will do everything in our power to level the playing field between millionaire executives and retired miners who have critical illnesses and injuries after years of labor in hazardous conditions."

Further information about the UMWA's efforts to protect retired miners is at FairnessatPatriot.org.

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