"If you were born in 1947 or earlier, and retired before Jan. 1, 2003, the company told us we would keep our health insurance," Gillenwater said. "A whole bunch of us quit so we could keep our insurance. Now they are cutting us off."
A hearing about salaried workers' benefits will take place April 23 in federal bankruptcy court in St. Louis, to determine if the company has the right to single-handedly end those benefits, Cohen said. If the company prevails, salaried retirees could lose their benefits within 60 days.
Janine Orf, Patriot's vice president for investor relations, did not comment specifically about the fears of her company's salaried retirees Friday.
Orf did release a short company statement: "All of our employees and retirees are being asked to make sacrifices to help Patriot emerge from bankruptcy. These sacrifices include reductions in compensation and benefits for salaried, union and nonunion employees.
"The modifications we are seeking in this motion are expected to save Patriot $26.9 million in total cash costs over the next five years."
Patriot Coal's website states: "The coal industry is experiencing one of the sharpest and deepest market adjustments of the last 30 years. As a result, every participant in the industry must make rapid and extraordinary changes in response to declining demand and margins.
"Patriot is using the Chapter 11 reorganization process to make the necessary changes to become competitive and to emerge as a long-term industry participant. The stakes are very high. More than 4,000 jobs will be lost if we cannot successfully reorganize."
"The union is putting on a good show," Gillenwater said. "They put on a good rally. They also have a contract that will bind the companies. They will maintain some reasonable form of insurance and retirement benefits. But it looks like we will end up with absolutely nothing."
The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings list 99 coal and land companies, owned or controlled by Patriot, as other "debtor entities."
When the spin-off took place back in 2007, Peabody transferred several active mines to Patriot.
"They also took retiree obligations off the books for people who had already been retired -- people who worked for Peabody for 20, 30 or 40 years," Cohen said. "They transferred those liabilities over to Patriot.
"Patriot is not only seeking to terminate retiree benefits, but says their termination should not result in a legal claim. You're talking about retirees living on fixed incomes.
"A majority of them worked underground for their entire careers, side-by-side with union members, suffering the same kind of industrial long-term health effects you see with any coal miners.
"They are really being picked on by the company," Cohen said.
In an earlier statement released Tuesday, Orf stated, "Patriot has filed a lawsuit against Peabody Energy to prevent them from using the Patriot bankruptcy to reduce their own obligations to retirees whose health care they agreed to pay in the spin-off."Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.