UMWA keeps pressure on in Patriot bankruptcy

May 22, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Photo from Fairness at Patriot campaign Facebook page.

Here’s the latest from St. Louis, via The Associated Press:

Another round of protests involving United Mine Workers of America and their supporters results in about a dozen arrests in downtown St. Louis.

Several hundred protesters gathered again Tuesday near the federal courthouse, the site of a recent bankruptcy case involving St. Louis-based Patriot Coal. The protesters were peacefully arrested for sitting in the street.

Patriot filed for bankruptcy in July. Protesters are angry about Patriot’s plan to cut health-care and retirement benefits. Patriot says the moves are necessary to keep the company afloat.

Similar arrests have occurred at other protests in St. Louis in recent months.

As the UMWA noted in a press release, a key ruling in the case is due next week:

Patriot Coal, created by Peabody Energy 2007 with 43 percent of Peabody’s liabilities but just 11 percent of its assets, filed for bankruptcy in July, 2012. Patriot has filed motions demanding the effective elimination of the current system of health care for retired miners and drastic pay and benefit cuts for active workers. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kathy Surratt-States is scheduled to rule on the company’s motions on or before May 29.

Interestingly, Peabody Coal public relations agents from the firm FleishmanHillard have taken to emailing members of the media to give us contact information for the St. Louis Police Department if we are “looking for estimates regarding attendees” for the UMWA events and want to “confirm crowd size.”

While the AP reported “hundreds” of UMWA supporters attended yesterday’s event, the local CBS affiliate put the number at “thousands” and the UMWA press release said 4,500. The St. Louis Dispatch said 1,000. But as I’ve written before, it’s a little unfortunate when the coverage of issues like this gets tangled up in arguments over crowd estimates. It’s not really the point.

Anyway, the PR statement from Peabody coal continues:

The union continues to grandstand when it knows that this matter will be decided in the courts.  Patriot was highly successful following its launch more than five years ago with significant assets, low debt and a market value that more than quadrupled in less than a year.  Peabody has lived up to its obligations and continues to do so.  This is a matter between the union and Patriot Coal, and will be decided in the bankruptcy court.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts said yesterday:

There’s a great song lyric by Woody Guthrie. ‘Some rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen.’ This is robbery pure and simple, and we’re not going to stand for it.  We’re advocating for the best possible result for our members before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, but this fight won’t end when the judge rules.  We’ve got our own lawsuit underway in West Virginia; we’ve got a bill in Congress which will hold the original employers of these workers accountable; and we will continue to follow these companies and these corporate executives wherever they go.

Here in Charleston, two groups — Interfaith Worker Justice and Religious Leaders for Coalfield Justice — are joining with the UMWA in planning a vigil in support of the Patriot workers and retirees.  It’s scheduled for at 1 p.m. May 23 (tomorrow) in front of the coal miner’s statue located between the Capitol and the Culture Center on state Capitol grounds.

One Response to “UMWA keeps pressure on in Patriot bankruptcy”

  1. Phil Smith says:

    Thanks for keeping on this story Ken. I just want to point out that as much as Peabody is wanting to wish this will end when the judge renders a decision in the coming days, Peabody executives and lawyers will not be the ones who will decide when the UMWA effort ends. The UMWA will make that decision, and I can promise Peabody that we will be back in front of their building again and again and again. Because the truth is that this is not simply a matter for the bankruptcy court. That is only the first part of this battle.

    As much as Peabody wants to wash its hands of its responsibility to the retirees who never worked a day for Patriot Coal, it cannot. Peabody (and Arch) promised those benefits. This will end when they fulfill that promise.

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