Last summer Patriot’s owners filed for bankruptcy, through which they are seeking to cut thousands of active and retired mine workers from health benefits and pension plans and to tear up union contracts. In 2007, Peabody Energy Corp. spun off most of its unionized mines to form Patriot Coal Corp. Those affected include more than 20,000 retirees and family members, mostly in West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio.
Hundreds of miners came to St. Louis on buses from West Virginia and Kentucky. “Six buses came from Kentucky,” Vickie Girten, from Morganfield, Ky., told the Militant. “We are here trying to save our health care. We’ve been here since Sunday passing out flyers.”
“Their fight is my fight,” Floyd Conley, a miner from southern West Virginia, told the Militant. “If Peabody gets away with this there will be a chain reaction to all the unions. It is going to take all of the unions to march and get together.”
The moves by Patriot come amid declining coal production in the region. Brett Dillon, director of the UMWA Career Center, told the Beckley, W.Va., Register-Herald that he estimates 3,000 workers at mines across southern West Virginia have been laid off over the past year.
Conley, 35, was laid off from the Gateway Eagle Mine owned by Patriot in November. “Patriot idled all the union mines and the nonunion mines owned by Patriot did not lay off,” he said.
Jerry Meade, who worked at the Patriot Black Oak Mine in West Virginia for 37 years, said he and hundreds of other miners lost their jobs a week before Thanksgiving. “There are no other jobs,” Meade told the Militant. “If I retire I have no medical and my wife needs it. She had two knees replaced.”
Meade said he and his coworkers accepted lower pay than non-union workers doing the same job because they had health insurance. Meade made $26 an hour, while many nonunion workers earn around $30, he said. “But at least I knew there would be health care at the end of the line.”
Following the rally they marched to the headquarters of Peabody Energy where 10 UMWA members, including UMWA President Cecil Roberts, were arrested for obstructing traffic.
Laura Anderson contributed to this article.
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