Coal Tattoo

More on the UMWA’s latest Patriot rally

There’s more in today’s Gazette about the big United Mine Workers of America rally against Patriot Coal here in Charleston, including the above video by Doug Imbrogno, a story by Rusty Marks about the arrests of 16 UMWA members and supporters, and this piece by Dr. Paul Nyden, headlined, “Mine families at rally ask ‘who will be next?‘:

Linda Robinette doesn’t rely on Patriot Coal for her health benefits. But she’s worried what might happen if the company is allowed to cut union-negotiated benefits for retirees.

“We are here for a good cause. If Patriot and Peabody get by with this, who will be next?” asked Robinette, whose husband Clarence retired after working at U.S. Steel’s No. 50 Mine in Wyoming County for 36 years. Their health benefits were negotiated under the United Mine Workers of America’s contract with the company.

On Monday, thousands of miners, retirees and supporters arrived at the Charleston Civic Center to protest Patriot Coal’s efforts to use bankruptcy filings to strip miners and retirees of health and pension benefits guaranteed under union contracts.

The miners traveled from coalfields in West Virginia, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky. After the rally, the crowd marched to nearby Laidley Tower, where Patriot maintains its West Virginia headquarters. Sixteen marchers, including UMW President Cecil Roberts, were arrested after they sat down on the building’s front steps.

Patriot Coal was founded Oct. 31, 2007, when Peabody Coal sold all its union operations east of the Mississippi to the newly created company. In 2008, Patriot bought Magnum Coal, a company that took over union mines once operated by Arch Coal.

Union leaders have said that Patriot was a “company created to fail,” a way to let Peabody and Arch shed their obligations to union employees and retirees, while reaping the benefits of their largely non-union mines in the western United States.

“I worked 36 years as a miner with Arch. I have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and breathing problems,” said Charles Huth of Ava, Ill. “I think Arch should honor their commitment and give us our health care.

“The coal companies are only paying 20 percent of our health care because Medicare is paying the rest of it,” Huth said. “I get $1,300 a month in my pension. I still have that. I am afraid that if we lose our benefits, everyone else down the road will also lose them.”

Huth said he boarded a bus in Illinois at 10 p.m. Sunday to come to Charleston, and would get back on the bus to go home Monday evening.