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Judge approves settlement that OKs Patriot-union deal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A judge in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis approved Tuesday afternoon the contract negotiated between the United Mine Workers of America and Patriot Coal, which had filed for bankruptcy protection in July 2012.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts said, "I am pleased that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States has approved the settlement we worked long and hard to reach with Patriot Coal.

"The terms and conditions of this settlement are a significant improvement over the company's original proposals, while still giving Patriot the stability and certainty it needs to move forward."

Patriot Coal filed a motion asking Surratt-States to approve the labor agreement after 85 percent of UMWA members who cast votes last Friday approved the new contract.

Roberts said, "There is still a long way to go, however, before retired mine workers receive all of the health-care benefits they earned during their years in the mines.

"Make no mistake: Peabody Energy and Arch Coal created this problem. They made the promises of lifetime health care to our members, and we will continue our efforts to hold them to their word."

Patriot Coal was founded in 2007 when Peabody Energy sold its union operations east of the Mississippi to the newly created company. In 2008, Patriot bought Magnum Coal, a company that in 2005 took over union mines previously operated by Arch Coal.

The overwhelming majority of Patriot retirees collecting benefits today never worked a day for Patriot.

On May 29, Surratt-States ruled that Patriot could throw out its current contracts with the UMWA, reducing wages and cutting health-care benefits dramatically.

Patriot implemented those changes on July 1, an action the union immediately challenged.

After six weeks of negotiations, Patriot and UMWA leaders reached a labor agreement that allows Patriot to maintain some wage cuts.

But the agreement preserved many pension and health-care benefits for thousands of retired miners and their dependents. Active miners will continue to accumulate pension benefits under the new contract.

Patriot said the new agreement would save the company $130 million annually for the next four years, for a total of $520 million.

On Friday, Roberts said, "We are now able to turn our full attention to securing the lifetime health-care benefits Peabody and Arch promised these retirees."

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


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