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UMW protests Patriot parent in St. Louis

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hundreds of active and retired members of the United Mine Workers and their supporters protested near Peabody Energy's national headquarters in St. Louis on Tuesday morning.

The protest came a day after Patriot Coal and the UMW announced they reached a tentative agreement to resolve an ongoing dispute about wages, working conditions, health-care benefits and pensions.

Patriot filed for bankruptcy in St. Louis in July 2012, citing financial difficulties caused by debts the company assumed after taking over union mines previously operated by Arch Coal and Peabody Energy.

On Tuesday, UMW President Cecil E. Roberts said, "We have reached a tentative settlement with Patriot Coal which will lessen the impact of severe cutbacks on active and retired miners.

"But as we've said all along, Patriot really is bankrupt and just does not have sufficient resources to pay for the contractual promises made to retired miners and their families by Peabody and Arch.

"We're back at Peabody because that's where this problem started," Roberts said. "Executives at Peabody Energy created Patriot. They failed to give it enough assets to meet its obligations."

On July 30, more than 3,000 mine workers and supporters picketed outside Arch Coal's headquarters in Creve Coeur, Mo. Ten were arrested for civil disobedience.

When Patriot was created in 2007, the new company acquired all the union mines Peabody operated east of the Mississippi River.

Arch Coal created Magnum Coal in 2005, transferring its health-care and retirement obligations to that new company. Patriot then bought Magnum in 2008.

"Our bargaining team worked day and night to recover all we could from Patriot, but this fight is not over," UMW Secretary-Treasurer Dan Kane said Tuesday.

"Retired miners and their families are being shortchanged, even though Arch and Peabody are still profitable companies. It's just plain wrong to use a corporate shell game to deny workers the benefits they rightfully earned during a lifetime of labor in the coal mines. We're going to stay on this case until justice is done."

On Friday, UMW members working for Patriot will vote on the tentative contract agreement. About 1,800 active or laid-off members in West Virginia and Kentucky will be eligible to vote.

Neither the UMW nor Patriot has released any details of the settlement.

The union is also working for its retired miners in courts and before Congress.

The UMW filed a lawsuit in West Virginia alleging Peabody and Arch violated the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act by schemes to avoid paying the lifetime health-care benefits the companies had guaranteed under union contracts.

The UMW also backs the Coal Mine Health Care and Pension Protection Act of 2013, co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of more than 20 members of the House of Representatives from states around the country. The bill's sponsors include Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., and Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David B. McKinley, both R-W.Va.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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