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United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts To Lead Rally At Entrance To Massey Energy's Mammoth Mine C

date: 
February 24, 2005

Federal Bankruptcy Law Reform To Be Rally's Focus

Mammoth Site Chosen As Example Of Everything Wrong With Current Bankruptcy Laws

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil Roberts will rally with UMWA members and supporters on Thursday, February 24, at 11:00 a.m. outside the entrance to Massey Energy's Mammoth (Cannelton) coal mine cleaning plant on Route 60 near Smithers, W.Va.

"We chose to rally at the Cannelton cleaning plant because what happened to UMWA members at this operation last year is a perfect example of the harmful economic impact America's federal bankruptcy laws can have on good, honest, hard-working people," explained Roberts.

Roberts is referring to an Aug. 31, 2004, federal bankruptcy judge's decision that allowed the Cannelton mine's owner, Horizon Natural Resources, to throw out its contract with the UMWA and terminate promised health care benefits for nearly 1,000 active coal miners and some 4,000 retired miners and their dependents. The UMWA had represented miners at the Cannelton operation since it opened in 1947.

In addition to the Cannelton operation, Horizon also owned several other coal mines in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Horizon's Cannelton operation in West Virginia and its Star Fire operation in Kentucky were purchased out of bankruptcy by the notorious anti-union coal operator Massey Energy. Horizon mines in Illinois and Indiana were purchased by the Lexington Coal Group, which is now trying to re-sell those mines.

"What happened to the Horizon workers in bankruptcy court was a complete travesty of justice," said Roberts. "How Massey Energy has subsequently taken advantage of the tragic situation is just as bad."

Roberts explained that shortly after purchasing the Cannelton mine, Massey Energy was in the press saying the mine would operate non-union, while also complaining about an alleged lack of experienced miners to hire. To date, more than 125 displaced, experienced UMWA miners have applied for work at Massey's Mammoth mine, but only a handful have been called for interviews and hired. At Mammoth's cleaning plant and loading facility, where 40 UMWA members worked prior to the Horizon bankruptcy, not a single displaced miner has been hired.

"Massey has managed to avoid answering the question of why it is refusing to hire back a majority of the Cannelton miners," said Roberts. "Given that this is exactly the kind of experienced workforce Massey wants the public to believe is unavailable to hire, the UMWA believes Massey is intentionally avoiding these workers who have worked at this mine for many years."

Roberts said the UMWA was pleased that legislation was re-introduced recently in both the U.S. Senate and House (S. 162 and H.R. 299) to prevent coal operators from using federal bankruptcy laws to terminate federally promised lifetime health care benefits to the miners they employ.

"The UMWA is very thankful that our friends in Congress are once again working with us to address what happened last year in bankruptcy court," said Roberts. "Like the UMWA, some in Congress understand that one of the primary reasons the Coal Act was passed in 1992 was to prevent coal operators like Horizon from being able to walk away from their obligation to provide lifetime health care benefits to the miners they employed-through the courts, through bankruptcy, or by whatever means. Bankruptcy law should not be allowed to supersede the Coal Act. Hopefully, this legislation will help confirm Congress's intent to the courts, which would be a huge help to our campaign to prevent any more Horizons."

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