CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Did two profitable out-of-state coal corporations scheme to deprive thousands of West Virginia miners, retirees and dependents of their pensions and health insurance? Was it a plot to leave many Mountain State families desperate?
Why aren't West Virginia leaders investigating this grim possibility? The governor or Legislature should conduct hearings. Answers are sorely needed.
The United Mine Workers union has raised these allegations:
"In 2007, Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal producer, created a much-weaker startup company called Patriot, spinning off all of Peabody's unionized operations in West Virginia and Kentucky," the union said in a full-page newspaper ad.
Although Patriot had scant resources, it was obligated to assume the pension and medical burden for all those unionized miners.
Later, Arch Coal followed suit, funneling its UMW mines to Magnum Coal, which merged into Patriot. Then Patriot filed bankruptcy, saying it can't afford the pension and medical load it accepted. If its court plea succeeds, multitudes of West Virginia families will be thrown into calamity.
The case will decide the fate of about 2,000 current Patriot miners in West Virginia and Kentucky, plus 10,000 retirees and another 10,000 dependents, reporter Ken Ward Jr. outlined. The UMW ad declared:
"As part of a scheme hatched several years ago in St. Louis boardrooms, Patriot Coal has filed for bankruptcy. Its goal: to dump its retiree health care obligations and strip 22,000 current miners, retirees and their dependents of their long-held right to health care."
Now, Peabody is reaping billions in profits, while its legal obligation to its former unionized workers was successfully eluded. It was a "paper trick," UMW President Cecil Roberts alleges.
Tuesday afternoon, a throng of miners rallied at Haddad Riverfront Park for a march protesting the corporate sleight-of-hand.
If two out-of-state coal conglomerates can escape contractual promises in this manner, why can't many other companies do likewise, shifting their union operations to flimsy firms sure to collapse?
We wish some West Virginia leaders would step forward to investigate this ominous situation.