Coal Tattoo

UMWA explains Patriot plan for health-care cuts

Judging from the online video stream (from which I pulled the above photograph) from the United Mine Workers of America protest at Peabody Energy headquarters in St. Louis today, it looks like some folks might soon get arrested. UPDATED: Read the latest on the arrests here.

Mike Elk from In These Times has been live-tweeting the event, and you can follow the UMW’s Fairness at Patriot Campaign here or here.

But buried in the news about the protest, UMWA President Cecil Roberts for the first time revealed some details — though only a few of them — about exactly what Patriot has proposed to do regarding its union contracts and health-care benefit plan (see previous posts here, here and here). Until now, these details have been discussed only privately during union negotiations with Patriot, and the actual proposals haven’t been filed publicly yet in bankruptcy court.

During a telephone press conference just before the protest, Roberts said that Patriot has proposed to change its UMWA contract terms “quite dramatically,” but didn’t provide more details than that. Roberts also said that Patriot has proposed to create a “voluntary employees beneficiaries’ association,” or VEBA, to replace its existing health-care plans. But, Roberts said, the company hasn’t proposed adequate plans for funding the program. The company proposed putting $10 million into the program over a 12-month period, but Roberts said the real need is more like $80 million a year to cover the costs. Under such a plan, Roberts said:

People would still lose their health care.

Initially, Roberts said, the company hoped to implement its plan by April 1. For now, that has been pushed back to June 1 … But Roberts says the UMWA will keep up its campaign against Patriot:

What we have here is a company reneging on its promises. We’re not going to take it. We will fight for our members and their families in the courts, in the coalfields and in the streets of St. Louis. Patriot and Peabody have a moral obligation to those who mined their coal.