By C.V. Moore
The Fayette County Black Lung Association heard an update last week on the United Mine Workers of America’s fight to protect members’ health care and pensions from a bankruptcy filing by Patriot Coal.
Joe Carter, International Vice President of UMWA District 17, discussed what he called a “serious situation” for the 22,000 active members, retirees and their dependents who receive benefits from Patriot.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to see these people keep and preserve and protect their benefits, but it’s going to take a big group effort for that to happen,” he said.
The union plans to rally at Patriot’s first bankruptcy hearing on Jan. 29 in St. Louis, where the case was transferred from New York.
“We’ve got to bring a focus on this to the public, about what corporations are trying to do to the working people,” said Carter.
“We’re going to go up there and bring some recognition to the fact that this is wrong and it’s not something we should allow in this country. The people are the country. It’s not about an institution or a corporation.”
Patriot Coal was formed in 2007 when Peabody Coal spun off its eastern mining operations, and the long-term obligations that went with them, into a new company. In 2005, Arch Coal sold two of its union subsidiaries to Magnum Coal, which was then acquired by Patriot in 2008.
In July 2012, Patriot filed for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy, citing its “unsustainable labor-related legacy liabilities” as a major financial burden, according to media reports.
The UMWA fears that the company will shed its long-term pension and health care obligations through the bankruptcy, leaving miners and their families without. The union claims that Patriot was a “company created to fail.”
Both Peabody and Arch have strongly denied the union’s allegations.
Several of the 12,000 active and retired miners whose health care and pensions are threatened were present at the Fayette County BLA meeting, held at New River Health in Whipple on Tuesday evening.
“I have never worked one day for Patriot,” said one retired miner who spent his whole career working for Peabody, but who now faces uncertainty about his financial future. “They just sold us out the door.”
Another member responded, “The money people are pushing the poor people down the drain.”
Approximately 40 Fayette County BLA members listened to Carter’s report. Five new members were present.
This is typical of attendance at the association’s monthly meetings, where members hear reports from experts and advocates, receive assistance in filing for benefits, and share developments in their own benefits battles with coal companies.
The association has a membership of 133 miners, mostly retirees and UMWA members.
The next meeting will be held Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Robinson Annex building of New River Health in Whipple.
For more information on the Fayette County Black Lung Association, call Joe and Nancy Massie at 304-469-3235.
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