Coal Tattoo

In this Wednesday Aug. 3, 2011 file photo, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., gestures during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Finally, another of our state’s elected officials has stepped forward to express concern about the potential impacts of Patriot Coal’s bankruptcy on thousands of working coal miners, retired miners and families. Sen. Jay Rockfeller’s office has released a copy of this Sept. 7 letter the senator wrote to Irl Engelhardt, Patriot’s CEO, saying:

Generations of West Virginia coal miners have dedicated their careers to making Patriot and the entire coal industry a success. These employees and retirees have spent decades working hard under the promise of fair wages, safe working conditions, secure pensions, and lifetime health-care benefits. I am therefore troubled that Patriot has indicated that it is reviewing pension and health-care benefits as potential sources of savings as it restructures — especially since all of these benefits were contractually agreed to or voluntarily assumed by Patriot; the company from which it was spun-off, Peabody Energy; and the company it acquired, Magnum Coal Company, which itself was spun-off from Arch Coal Inc.

Sen. Rockefeller continued:

I understand that Patriot is in the process of reviewing its labor costs, along with other aspects of its business, and will soon submit a plan for revisions to the United Mine Workers of America. As this process moved forward, I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to uphold the commitments that were made relating to pension, health care and other benefits for your employees and retirees. Any efforts to strip these individuals of their earned benefits through the bankruptcy process would be severely unjust.

Previously, the only elected officials here to say much of anything publicly about this situation was Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw, who entered the bankruptcy case to support the UMWA’s efforts to have the proceeding moved to bankruptcy court in Southern West Virginia.

In a news released issued on Sunday evening, Sen. Rockefeller’s office also provided a copy of a letter Rockefeller sent to UMWA President Cecil Roberts, saying:

I know that UMWA employees and retirees face substantial uncertainty as a result of the recent bankruptcy filing by Patriot Coal Corporation, which is why I sent the attached letter to Patriot’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer on behalf of the company’s employees and retirees. As indicated in the letter, I firmly believe that any efforts on behalf of the company to strip employees and retirees of the benefits they have earned and that were promised to them would be severely unjust.