CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller is concerned about the potential impact of Patriot Coal's bankruptcy on thousands of retired coal miners and families who depend on Patriot for pensions and health-care benefits.
The West Virginia Democrat wrote to Patriot CEO Irl Engelhardt to express his concerns, saying he is "troubled" the company is reviewing its United Mine Workers contract and its pensions and health-care plans as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.
"As this process moved forward, I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to uphold the commitments that were made relating to pension, health care and other benefits for your employees and retirees," Rockefeller wrote. "Any efforts to strip these individuals of their earned benefits through the bankruptcy process would be severely unjust."
Rockefeller's letter to Engelhardt was dated Sept. 7 and was made public by the senator's press office on Sunday.
Patriot employs about 2,000 active union members in West Virginia and Kentucky, and the company is responsible for more than 10,000 retirees and another 10,000 dependents, most of them in West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, according to the UMW.
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 billion in debt.
The company complained that the UMW's national contract, under which some Patriot operations work, "contains many provisions that restrict the ability of signatory employers to deploy labor and operate their mines in a flexible and cost-effective manner, which puts signatory companies at a cost disadvantage with their union-free competitors." Patriot has also complained about its "legacy obligations," such as retiree pensions and health-care benefits.
Patriot has not yet submitted its proposed plan for reorganization, and UMW lawyers are trying to have the bankruptcy case moved from Manhattan to Southern West Virginia.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.