|United Mine Workers of America Archive/Phil Smith|
|Sept. 11 demonstration, Charleston, W.Va., demands Patriot Coal, a Peabody spinoff, maintain health and pension benefits company plans to drop as part of bankruptcy filing.|
BY SETH GALINSKY
Patriot Coal Corp. is using bankruptcy proceedings in an attempt to cut thousands of active and retired mine workers from health benefits and pension plans and to tear up union contracts.
Patriot currently employs 2,000 union miners in West Virginia and Kentucky and is responsible for the health and pension plans of more than 10,000 retirees and 10,000 family members, mostly in West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio.
Peabody Energy formed Patriot as a spin-off company in 2007, leaving the new entity with ownership of union mines in West Virginia and the Midwest, as well as liability for the pension and health funds.
In order to have the case heard in a New York court, Patriot set up what the Wall Street Journal calls two “shell corporations” in the state less than six weeks before its July 9 bankruptcy filing. According to the Journal, the purpose of “bootstrapping,” as this is commonly called, is to have the bankruptcy request heard “in a courtroom as far as possible from employees, retirees and small trade creditors” and closer to larger creditors and their law firms.
Hundreds of union mine workers and supporters marched in Charleston, W.Va., Sept. 11, to oppose the moves to tear up the health and pension plans and union contracts and to demand a change in venue for the bankruptcy hearings.
United Mine Workers union officials have filed a petition demanding the case be heard in West Virginia, where many of the miners live. Bankruptcy Judge Shelley Chapman in New York City is expected to rule on the UMWA petition soon.
No matter where the bankruptcy hearing is held, “we will make our voices heard and we will be asking our brothers and sisters in other unions and workplaces to be there with us,” UMWA spokesperson Phil Smith said in a phone interview Oct 17. “If Peabody gets away with this, then every single working person’s pensions are at risk. What’s to keep other companies from doing the same thing?”
If the judge doesn’t change the venue, “you’re going to see a lot of coal miners in New York,” Smith said.
More information on the mine workers fight and future demonstrations is available at www.fairnessatpatriot.org.
Peabody Energy and Patriot Coal did not return calls requesting comment.
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