Coal Tattoo

Big hearing starts in Patriot Coal bankruptcy case

Photo via UMWA’s Fairness at Patriot campaign

There was action in the streets and in the courtroom today in St. Louis. A key hearing began on Patriot’s effort to use its bankruptcy reorganization to throw out its contract with the United Mine Workers of America. And plenty of UMWA members, retirees, officials and supporters were on hand outside. Local station KMOV reported:

Sixteen people were arrested including a Reverend as more than 1,500 people protested in downtown St. Louis as Patriot Coal began to argue to a federal bankruptcy judge that it needs to significantly cut health care and pension benefits for its union workers, who protest the move. Rev. David Gerth, 11 retired miners and four others were arrested Monday afternoon after refusing to comply with demands from a police officer. 

The Associated Press reported:

Peabody accused the union of grandstanding “when it knows that this matter will be decided in the courts” and is between the union and Patriot, not Peabody. Peabody added it “has lived up to its obligations and continues to do so.”

The hearing could last through Friday, although U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States may not issue a ruling immediately.

… Monday’s proceedings drew an overflow crowd, including nearly two-dozen Peabody retirees from Kentucky who wore T-shirts that said “Peabody promised …” on the front and “Peabody lied!” on the back.

Among them was Donald Morris, a Greenville, Ky., resident who retired from Peabody after working for 18 years in one of its mines near Beaver Dam, Ky. The 66-year-old’s speech is strained because of partial facial paralysis related to a brain tumor that was removed a decade ago, and he’s had to undergo several other costly procedures, including hernia and prostate surgeries. Morris said he worries that if he loses his health coverage, he doesn’t think he’d be able to find affordable coverage.

“My wife and I are at an age where we can’t buy insurance,” Morris said. “If we lose it, we’re done.”

Reuters also reported on the day’s events, but allowed its coverage to get bogged down into one of these back-and-forth arguments over how many people attended the UMWA rally:

Conflicting reports left the scope of the rally unclear. The union said the rally attracted about 6,000 people, most of them mine workers. That’s more than the 4,000 or so protesters the union was expecting, union spokesman Phil Smith said. But police estimated only about 2,000 people took part in the event, said Schron Jackson,  spokeswoman for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Jackson, who was at the event, said the union’s estimate seemed far too high. The union stood by its figure as of late on Wednesday afternoon. “Two-thousand people alone came on buses that UMWAbrought, and six other organizations brought multiple buses,” Smith said.

In any event, among those arrested was former Obama administration official and green jobs advocate Van Jones. Jones previously co-authored an op-ed on the Patriot Coal situation with UMWA President Cecil Roberts and Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All:

This kind of misbehavior represents the worst of what American corporations can be. But by working together to fight this injustice, environmentalists and coal miners may have an opportunity to build bridges to address our mutual concerns and shared vision.

One of the major causes of contention between coal miners and greens has been resolving the difficult issue of jobs vs. protecting the environment. But we don’t have to limit ourselves to picking one or the other. Americans deserve good jobs, secure retirements and a healthy environment. We do not need to accept a false choice between our pressing economic needs and our legitimate environmental concerns.

The truth of the matter is, environmentalists and workers in our energy sector have more in common than we often acknowledge. We all want good jobs to feed our children – and a clean environment so that our kids, and our grand-kids, can thrive. We all want our kids and grandkids to breathe clean air and drink clean water and lead healthy, prosperous lives.

It’s that common vision that has driven our independent actions toward it. For years, the UMWA has worked to reduce emissions at American coal-fired power plants and has advocated for ways to encourage the same around the world. Similarly, environmentalists have called for a transition to a cleaner energy economy which also ensures that coal, oil, and gas workers and their families are protected, that the retirement benefits they have earned are secure, and that there will be opportunities for good jobs in a reinvented fossil fuel industry and an expanded renewable energy sector.

What we’ve done separately, it’s time to now do together.

It might not be easy to lead our nation toward good jobs and a healthy environment, but it is possible. And securing fairness for Patriot workers and retirees is a first step on the path to getting there.