CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An estimated 6,000 to 10,000 union members and supporters rallied at the Charleston Civic Center on Monday, then marched a few blocks to Patriot Coal's state headquarters, to protest a proposal from the company to cut employee and retiree health benefits.
Sixteen people were arrested at the end of the peaceful demonstration, including United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts.
The mass of people, many clad in the unofficial union camouflage uniform and chanting slogans, left the Civic Center just after 11:30 a.m., following a morning rally.
"Patriot promised! Patriot lied!" was one of the recurring slogans chanted by the protesters as they snaked their way from the Civic Center to Virginia Street, up Virginia Street to Court Street and down Court Street to Laidley Tower, where Patriot has local offices.
The chant alternated with cries of "We are union!" and "UMWA!" Although several labor unions were represented at the rally and march, with participants coming in from several states, many were West Virginia coal miners.
Many also carried signs and placards. "Are you next?" some asked. "Patriot's greed kills," read one sign, while at least one placard read, "Patriot got the cash, miners got the shaft."
Last month, Patriot Coal asked a federal bankruptcy judge to throw out the terms of the company's contract with the UMW. The company filed for bankruptcy, and company officials have said reducing health-care benefits for employees is a key part of reorganizing the company's finances.
On Monday, as the head of the column of protesters arrived at their destination, the tail was still at the Civic Center. Their chants drowned out the noontime bells of a nearby church as the crowd stretched for blocks through the heart of downtown Charleston.
Once in front of Laidley Tower, where Patriot Coal's state headquarters are located, Roberts urged the crowd several times to be peaceful, and to direct their anger at Patriot and the company's lawyers.