CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- United Mine Workers of America and Patriot Coal announced a settlement Monday on retirees' health-care benefits, after a federal bankruptcy judge earlier this year allowed the company to throw out union-negotiated contracts and significantly reduce those benefits.
In a news release, the UMW said the settlement includes significant improvements in the terms and conditions of employment from those approved by federal U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States in Missouri on May 29 and implemented by Patriot on July 1.
UMW President Cecil E. Roberts said in the statement, "After several weeks of nearly around-the-clock negotiations, I believe we have reached something that can be taken to the membership for ratification."
Roberts and other UMW officials said they would not talk about details of the settlement until union members have a chance to learn about its terms.
But Roberts said the agreement will restore, or improve on, many of the most drastic changes Surratt-States approved, including "wages, health-care benefits, paid time off and pensions."
"We have negotiated a mechanism that will allow retiree health-care benefits to continue," he said.
Patriot Coal President and CEO Bennett K. Hatfield said the settlement "represents the successful conclusion of a difficult negotiation in which both the UMWA leadership and Patriot management have invested many long days.
"Both parties want to preserve jobs and protect health-care benefits for retirees by keeping Patriot on track for reorganization -- and not liquidation," Hatfield said. "We appreciate the cooperation of the UMWA leadership and the sacrifices of all of our employees and retirees as we work to restore Patriot to viability."
Patriot is also filing a legal motion, Hatfield said, with the federal bankruptcy court in St. Louis seeking approval to enter into its proposed agreement with the UMW.
UMW members will vote on the new agreement Friday. About 1,800 active and laid-off members in West Virginia and Kentucky will be eligible to vote.