As bankruptcy court hearings begin today in St. Louis on Patriot Coal’s petition to eliminate retiree health care and to make steep cuts in compensation for active miners, the United Mine Workers released documents showing that Patriot has paid more than $14 million in legal fees and expenses to the well-heeled New York law firm, Davis Polk and Wardwell.
While coal miners, retirees and their widows may be threatened with loss of their livelihoods – even their lives when it comes to their critical health care – the lawyers in Gucci Gulch are living high off the hog telling Patriot how it can shed human liabilities, reward executives and hoard cash.
Senior attorneys at the law firm are billing Patriot $985 an hour, junior attorneys bill $795 an hour and paralegals bill $400 an hour for such tasks as “coordinate duplication,” “assemble and revise hearing binder,” and “prepare FedEx labels for shipment.” The firm charged $21,951.78 in meal expenses from July 2012 to January 2013.
“This is a terrible irony that attorneys making $1,000 an hour and paid more than $14 million at this point, they’re billing $22,000 for take-out food when they work late,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts told a press briefing on Monday. “And yet they want to take away health care from 97,000 people, who pay for their own food, buy their own lunches.” See more details of the filing here.
“We have people who can’t afford their medicine,” Roberts said, “people who have literally broken their backs, who have been severely injured working for Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, the companies that then dumped their obligations into a company they created to fail, Patriot Coal.”
Roberts talked about getting a call from a 93-year-old widow who’s afraid she’ll lose everything if the company is able to walk away from its retirees. “She had lost her husband, and all of her friends had passed. She said, ‘I’ve got one friend left and that’s Cecil Roberts, because you’re trying to save my health care.’ Well, I’ll never give up trying. I’ll never sign an agreement with these coal companies that takes away health care from these retirees.”
Patriot has asked the court to replace its retiree health plan with “Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association” (VEBA), with a cash contribution of $15 million, about the same amount it has paid the lawyers thus far to shake down the former employees, and far short of what is needed. And the company also has asked the court to approve $7 million in bonuses for the genius executives that led them into bankruptcy court.
Mine Workers, retirees and their widows will be among the hundreds that gather on the streets of St. Louis today, demanding that the courts do their duty and provide justice for the miners and their families. Some will be arrested.
“We will not stop until we see that justice in our nation is for all the people, and not just the rich folks,” Roberts said. Meet one of the families whose lives are at stake here.