CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Patriot Coal officials are saying statements by the United Mine Workers are "inaccurate and distorted" and that the company never "walked out" on negotiations with the union.
In a statement Wednesday night, Patriot said it has not walked out of negotiations with the UMW. In fact, company officials said, they only learned that next week's planned negotiating meetings were cancelled from the UMW's news release.
Ben Hatfield, Patriot's president and CEO, said the union statement was "inaccurate and distorted.
"Patriot has been working diligently with the UMWA in efforts to address their concerns about the contractual changes found to be necessary, fair and equitable by the bankruptcy court. If our goal was to force acceptance of the court-approved contract as is, no further discussions would have been necessary, as that option has been available to us since May 29," Hatfield stated.
Last month, a federal bankruptcy judge said Patriot could ignore its contracts with union workers and cut wages and benefits for workers and retirees. Union leaders had said the cuts are too deep, and the company and the union had been trying to reach a new deal.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States granted Patriot's requests to legally adjust employee wages and benefits "to a level consistent with the regional market."
Surratt-States also allowed Patriot to move its health-care obligations to retired miners into a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association, or VEBA.
Today, Patriot Coal is responsible for health-care benefits for about 23,000 retired miners, their dependents and widows.
Patriot Coal was founded in 2007 when Peabody Energy sold all its union operations east of the Mississippi River to the newly created company. In 2008, Patriot bought Magnum Coal, a company that had taken over union mines once operated by Arch Coal.
Those deals, the UMWA argues, gave Patriot far more liabilities than assets from its creators -- Peabody and Arch. A large part of Patriot's retiree health-care costs come from miners who already had retired from Peabody or Arch, and who never worked for Patriot.
In the statement released Wednesday evening, Patriot said it is offering the UMW millions of dollars in additional benefits, including wage increases, health-care improvements, life insurance and paid time off.
Company officials said they needed a two-day recess from negotiations this week to conduct a "financial analysis" of the costs of UMW demands that Patriot reject most of the cost cuts approved by the Surratt-States bankruptcy ruling.
"It remains the assessment of Patriot management that agreeing to the UMWA's demands would sacrifice any chance of making the company viable," according to the company's statement.
The proposed VEBA, to help retirees, would be funded with hundreds of millions of dollars, the company stated, including: