Thousands rally again in St. Louis demanding Peabody and Arch live up to their obligations
By TIM ROWDEN
The United Mine Workers of American (UMWA) will appeal a federal judge’s decision Sept. 27 to dismiss a class-action suit the union and a group of active and retired miners filed against Peabody Energy and Arch Coal in October.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston, W.Va., charged that the companies had violated federal pension laws when they transferred the health and pension benefits of more than 10,000 active and retired miners to the newly created Patriot Coal Corp. in 2007 to avoid their obligations to the miners.
"I am very disappointed in the Court's decision to dismiss the lawsuit we had filed under the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act (ERISA) to get Peabody and Arch to live up to their responsibilities to their retirees,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts said.
“The UMWA intends to appeal, because we believe the decision fails to recognize the purpose of ERISA, which is to protect the benefits employees have earned.
"Our members who are at risk of losing the retiree health care benefits Peabody and Arch promised them clearly earned those benefits. We will continue to fight for them in every possible venue until those benefits are secure.Bottom of Form
In August, the UMWA reached a settlement with Patriot—which had filed for bankruptcy in 2012—that restored many of the wage and benefit cuts Patriot instituted as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. But settlement with Patriot does not give enough resources to fulfill the promise of lifetime health care benefits that Peabody and Arch agreed to provide to thousands of retirees from those companies.
RALLY IN ST. LOUIS
The judge’s ruling came just days after thousands of active and retired miners and their supporters marched through the streets of downtown St. Louis, surrounding Peabody Energy’s headquarters at Market and Seventh streets before rallying across the street in Kiener Plaza.
Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO says the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) have shown Missouri’s labor movement what standing together is all about.
“The entire labor movement of the state of Missouri has watched you show us how to do it,” Louis told the miners at the Sept. 24 rally.
“You’ve shown us that your loyalty is fierce,” Louis said.
“You’ve shown us that your dedication to sisterhood and brotherhood is undying.
“You’ve shown us that your commitment to future members of the United Mine Workers is relentless.
“And you’ve shown us that your willingness to preserve what has been promised to you by that ivory tower to your retirees is sacred and, by God, you’re not going to let it go!” Louis said to cheers from a crowd estimated in the thousands.
Fifteen people were arrested as the miners and supporters protested Peabody’s continued refusal to pay for health care benefits promised to retired miners, their widows and dependents.
Peabody, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, reported $90 million in net income in the second quarter of 2013.
‘TODAY I AM A MINE WORKER’
Among those arrested was Terrence Melvin, President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and Secretary-Treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO. “I’ve never been in a mine, but today I am a mine worker,” Melvin told a roaring crowd.
Roberts told demonstrators that the fight for health care for retired miners is “a faith-based struggle, a civil rights-based struggle,” with the potential to “turn America around.”
Other prominent speakers at the rally included Claude Cummings, Vice President of CWA District Six, James Gilbert of the Union Veterans Council of America and Rev. Jonathan Stratton of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri.
PEABODY’S FALSE CLAIMS
The union also won a court ruling in August establishing Peabody’s continued obligations to 3,100 miners and dependents, whose benefits remained with Peabody at the time of the Patriot spinoff.
Peabody issued a statement the day before the rally, claiming that it had offered to settle “all claims” with the UMWA.
Not true, Roberts said.
“They’re already paying, pursuant to a court order, $20 million a year for 3,100 people. The offer they made to us is for $10 million a year for those same 3,100. No thank you.
“There are a lot more than 3,100 people that Peabody is responsible for,” Roberts said. “You can’t settle all the claims unless you cover all the people.”