Coal Tattoo

130416 Patriot STL DHK 107

Here’s the latest word on the Patriot Coal bankruptcy hearing, via The Wall Street Journal’s Jacqueline Palank:

A bankruptcy judge on Tuesday “strongly” recommended that Patriot Coal Corp.’s would-be buyer and the union representing its miners head back to the bargaining table one last time to try to reach a deal on the miners’ future employment.

After presiding over a four-hour trial, Judge Keith Phillips of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Va., declined to rule on Patriot’s request to reject the collective bargaining agreements with the United Mine Workers of America union.

Patriot has warned that its pending sale to Blackhawk Mining LLC—and the ultimate survival of its business—depends on its ability to shed the agreements, though the union says Patriot hasn’t made a good-faith effort to negotiate new deals.

“Based on what I’ve heard today, I think there [are] arguments to be made from both sides,” the judge said.

Instead, Judge Phillips urged Blackhawk and the union to try to reach a deal, pointing to what appears to have been some progress before talks apparently broke down.

“I’m going to suggest strongly that Blackhawk get engaged and that Blackhawk and the United Mine Workers association sit down across the table from each other…and try to come to some kind of accommodation,” the judge said.

The story continues:

After exchanging six proposals for a new labor agreement between Blackhawk and the union, Mr. Lucha said he believed talks were at an impasse. The company then asked the bankruptcy court for permission to reject the agreements.

Bankruptcy laws allow such rejections, but a company has to prove it engaged in good-faith negotiations, among other things. UMWA attorney Sharon Levine said that wasn’t the case.

“This has been the most unproductive, least effective negotiation that the UMW has ever seen,” she said.