Patriot Coal has asked bankruptcy court to terminate all retiree health care obligations and radically restructure its collective bargaining agreement with the United Mine Workers of America, essentially a nuclear option that promises to intensify the heat in the streets of St. Louis, where coal miners have come to demonstrate and go to jail if necessary to make their public case.
The bankruptcy court motions are “totally unacceptable, unnecessary and put thousands of retired coal miners, their dependents or their widows on the path to financial ruin, worsening health conditions or even death,” UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts declared.
The union stepped up its criticism of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal for using the Patriot shell company to dump their pension and health care obligations. Most of the miners affected are former employees of Peabody or Arch and never worked a day for Patriot Coal.
“Patriot is now the vehicle through which Peabody’s and Arch’s scheme to rid themselves of their long-term obligations to these retirees is playing out,” Roberts said. “But that does not absolve Patriot.”
The union has been negotiating with Patriot to reach a fair agreement and Roberts vowed that those talks would continue. “We remain on two paths in our fight for fairness and justice,” he said. “We will continue to meet with Patriot in the hopes that something fair for both sides can be worked out.
“But at the same time we will continue to make our case in the streets of St. Louis, in Charleston, W.Va., and anywhere else we need to be,” Roberts said. “Lawyers will do what lawyers do, courts will do what courts do. What working families do when they fight for justice is get out, get loud and demand to be heard. We will continue to do that.”
Expect the volume to rise in the streets of St. Louis next week. Here’s how the Mine Workers are making their case to the people of St. Louis in a new TV spot: