“If their health benefits are cut, in six weeks after the cuts take place, people will start dying!”
With that dramatic point, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Assistant to the Secretary-Treasurer Tim Baker explained to the delegates at the January St. Louis Labor Council meeting the details of the fight the UMWA is having with Peabody Energy, Arch Coal Company and Patriot Coal Company, all headquartered here in St. Louis.
He announced a series of public rallies in St. Louis to bring the plight of some 10,800 retirees with 22,000 beneficiaries (retirees, widows and children) to the public’s attention and demonstrate how Peabody and Arch Coal have turned their backs on the very people who made Peabody the largest private sector coal company in the world followed closely by Arch Coal.
The first rally was Jan. 29 outside the federal courthouse then marched through downtown St. Louis to Peabody’s headquarters at 701 Market.
A second rally is set for Feb. 13 and two more are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 23 and March 19. Details will be announced in the Labor Tribune when available.
LIVES AT STAKE
“The fight is over human lives, what’s right and fair,” Baker told the delegates, pointing out that Peabody Energy and Arch Coal callously, and for profit motives alone, spun off all their long-term health care responsibilities in Oct. 2007 to a newly formed Patriot Coal Company that is now in bankruptcy.
“We dealt with Peabody for 60 years. They committed to our miners health care for their lifetime. These retired, ill and even dying miners worked for Peabody and Peabody owes them fulfillment of their commitment,” Baker stressed.
In the current bankruptcy proceedings, Patriot is trying to wipe out the health care commitments originally made by Peabody Energy and Arch Coal.
“If they are allowed to do this, six weeks after their benefits are cut, sick and dying miners and their widows will start dying,” Baker reiterated.
SACRIFICED FOR HEALTH CARE
Baker pointed out to the Labor Tribune that the 10,000 pensioners covered by the current health care plan gave up wages and benefits over the years to ensure they had health care when they retired.
“Mining is one of the, if not the most dangerous occupation in America. Realizing this, our members sacrificed wages and other benefits over many years for this contractual commitment for health care. Now Peabody and Arch wants to turn their backs on these men and women. It’s not right, it’s not fair,” Baker said.
“Our members worked, and died, for these companies. It’s their responsibility plain and simple. If the company thinks we’re not going to let the public know how this company treats valued workers, and that we’ll ‘go away’ soon, they are sadly mistaken.”
Patriot Coal was created by Peabody Energy in 2007 with the specific purpose of allowing Peabody Energy and Arch Coal to shed its long-term health care obligations to its retirees and their families, says the UMWA. Saddled with too much debt and too little production to keep pace with its debt load, Patriot is seeking to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
How Peabody and Arch coal dumped their obligations for healthcare for 20,000 people
Over the past decade, Peabody energy and Arch Coal, the nation’s two largest coal companies, offloaded their substantial retiree health care obligations to new companies that now face bankruptcy.
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) says the spin offs were designed to fail in order to clear the companies’ books of their retiree debts.
In 2007, Peabody Energy spun off a new company, Patriot Coal, which inherited 10 union mines and $557 million in healthcare obligations to UMWA retirees.
In 2008, Patriot bought a coal company which has been similarly spun off from Arch Coal, inheriting another $500 million in health care obligations to miners.
Patriot, a five-year old company, wound up with almost three times as many retires as active employees; more than 90 percent of them never worked for Patriot at all! Overburdened with debt, last July Patriot declared bankruptcy.
In the bankruptcy, Patriot wants to be release from its pension and retirement obligations — $1.3 billion — to some 10,800 UMWA retirees covering more than 20,000 beneficiaries.
Attempting to protect its retired members, widows and children, the UMWA is suing Peabody and Arch Coal charging that Patriot was designed to fail to relieve Peabody and Arch from their obligations, thus making them very, very profitable.
Citing the Coal Act of 1992 in which Congress ordered coal companies to provide lifetime healthcare benefits to UMWA retirees, the UMWA says that the mining giants are still responsible for the retiree healthcare obligations assumed by Patriot.
- Source: In These Times