The suit against Peabody and Arch was part of the UMW's broader campaign to protect pensions and health-care benefits for its miners at Patriot, which is undergoing financial reorganization in bankruptcy court.
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.
In July 2012, Patriot declared bankruptcy, citing financial problems, especially the costs of health insurance and pensions paid for miners who had worked for Peabody and Arch.
A bankruptcy judge allowed Patriot's plan to cut many employee and retiree benefits, but the UMW negotiated a new deal in which the company reinstated many of those benefits. Now, the UMW has tried to focus its campaign on Peabody and Arch.
UMW President Cecil Roberts said that the union would appeal Goodwin's decision.
"I am very disappointed in the court's decision to dismiss the lawsuit we had filed under the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act (ERISA) to get Peabody and Arch to live up to their responsibilities to their retirees," Roberts said. "The UMWA intends to appeal, because we believe the decision fails to recognize the purpose of ERISA, which is to protect the benefits employees have earned.
"Our members who are at risk of losing the retiree health care benefits Peabody and Arch promised them clearly earned those benefits," Roberts said. "We will continue to fight for them in every possible venue until those benefits are secure."
Vic Svec, a Peabody spokesman, said, "Our position has been that this case was without merit, and we are pleased that the court has agreed."
Officials from Arch Coal did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.