CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- United Mine Workers officials are concerned that Patriot Coal's bankruptcy reorganization plan will ultimately include efforts to weaken working conditions for active miners and benefits for retirees.
In its bankruptcy filings, Patriot has complained of "substantial and unsustainable legacy costs," which company officials identified primarily as health-care benefits and pension payments.
Earlier this week, UMW lawyers sought to have the reorganization case moved from U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York to Southern West Virginia, where they say such issues can be more appropriately handled.
UMW lawyers noted that Patriot's bankruptcy filing in New York is based at least in part on two New York-based subsidiaries, both of which were created only in June.
"Nobody mines coal in New York," the union's lawyers said in court papers. "Significant issues in this case -- whether mines are shut, whether employee wages and benefits are cut -- will all directly affect the West Virginia economy while having no such effect in New York."
On July 9, St. Louis-based Patriot filed for bankruptcy, seeking court permission to reorganize itself to address mounting financial problems. The company listed $3.57 billion in assets and $3.07 in debt.
Last year, Patriot produced 22 million tons of coal in Appalachia. The company operates large surface and underground mines in West Virginia. UMW officials say Patriot has 2,000 active union members in West Virginia and Kentucky, along with more than 10,000 retirees and an additional 10,000 dependents, most of them in West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio.
"The UMWA will bring every resource to bear on behalf of our membership as this process unfolds," union President Cecil Roberts said in a prepared statement.