UMWA files emergency motion: Westmoreland prematurely announced modifications to benefits

President Roberts said, regarding the article below:

“Bankruptcy Courts have allowed the coal industry to forgo $4 billion in withdrawal liability from the 1974 Plan in the past four years. Now, Westmoreland presumes that they do not have to wait for a Court decision to unilaterally cancel its obligations to its long-term employees. This is unacceptable and until bankruptcy laws are changed, this blatant disregard for the lives of working Americans will continue to happen.”


Source: Kemmerer Gazette

The United Mine Workers of America have filed an emergency motion in a Houston bankruptcy court arguing that Westmoreland Coal Co. has violated its obligations and bankruptcy court procedure.

In the motion filed on Feb. 8, UMWA lawyers state that Westmoreland prematurely announced on Jan. 23 that employee pension plan benefits would be frozen in March. Those benefits are part of the collective bargaining agreement between UMWA miners at the Kemmerer mine and Westmoreland Coal.

On Jan. 16, Westmoreland officially asked permission of the bankruptcy court to give them authority to reject the collective bargaining agreements and modify retiree benefits for Kemmerer miners, but a hearing on that motion has not yet taken place.

The UMWA argues that Westmoreland “circulated notices announcing that employee pension plan benefits for UMWA employees at the Kemmerer and Beulah mines will be frozen, effective March 10, 2019.”

The union lawyers called the announcement an “anticipatory breach” that was done without court approval and a violation of proper procedure.

“These notices caused a surge of panic in UMWA represented employees at both the Kemmerer and Beulah mines, and the UMWA has been inundated with letters from angry and panicked union workers,” UMWA lawyers state in the motion.

The union attached several of those letters as part of the emergency motion.

“How can this company send me a letter stating that my benefits would be ended in March without a court hearing or even a decision after a hearing on the matter?” said a letter to the bankruptcy court from Kemmerer miner Robert Clarke.

Other letters pleaded with Judge David R. Jones to uphold justice and ethical business practices.

UMWA says that the union employees are entitled to enforcement of the CBAs. The union says that because Westmoreland prematurely published the notices saying the pensions would be modified without obtaining court approval, that is cause for the bankruptcy court to reject their motion that the CBAs should be denied.

UMWA states that the debtors are still obligated to provide the defined benefit pension plans, and that Westmoreland knows they still have this obligation.

“The unilateral termination of benefits and resulting labor unrest makes a potential labor strike even more likely,” the UMWA lawyers state in the motion.

In the emergency motion, the union lawyers point out that Westmoreland expressed “continued willingness to meet with the UMWA” even after filing the motion asking authority to reject the agreements.

“Despite these representations, and the disingenuous implication that the debtors seek only authority to reject the CBAs, the Debtors unilaterally modified their obligations to fund the defined benefit pension plans just one week after filing their 1113/1114 motion,” UMWA lawyers state in the Feb. 8 emergency motion.

A hearing on the UMWA’s emergency motion and on Westmoreland’s motion to end the collective bargaining agreements will be held on Feb. 13, at 1:00 p.m., in Houston, Texas.

Written by:  Theresa Davis