UMWA takes Patriot fairness fight to the West - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

UMWA takes Patriot fairness fight to the West

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More than a dozen coal miners are attending the annual shareholder meetings of Arch Coal and Peabody Energy to implore the companies' board members to fulfill obligations that could potentially be lost in the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal.

Peabody created Patriot Coal from assets and liabilities it said were solid. The United Mine Workers of America have contended that Patriot was unfairly loaded with insufficient assets and was doomed to fail.

Arch Coal would later sell assets to Magnum Coal company, which was later bought by Patriot Coal. Patriot Coal executives have revealed they would be pursuing an investigation of whether or not Peabody did its due diligence in ensuring survival potential of Patriot.

Peabody has insisted the company was viable and its own decisions, coupled with market conditions, brought the company to Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Charles Elkins, vice president of UMWA local 2286 in Danville said about six of the miners attending Arch Coal's shareholder meeting April 25 were from West Virginia. He added that "we're not going to give up and we're not going to go away."

"They are partners in this bankruptcy," Elkins said. "They are doing away with the pension and health care of the retired miners."

Elkins said he went into the shareholder meeting to speak as a proxy. He said he was disappointed in the results.

"I asked them to just look at me because I'm one of the faces that have to tell my wife ‘if you get sick again, I'm sorry I don't have any insurance, I don't know what I'm going to do,'" he said. "…They sat there stone-faced and didn't give me the honor of turning around and looking at me."

Kim Link, a spokesperson for Arch Coal, said she was in St. Louis at the time, but was under the impression about a dozen protestors were at the meeting. 

"This is a very challenging time for the U.S. coal industry, and we empathize with the many people who have been affected by the market downturn," Link said. "However, Arch Coal sold the former subsidiary companies in question more than seven years ago to ArcLight Capital Partners. Arch Coal did not spin off subsidiaries to Patriot Coal Corporation, and Arch Coal was never a signatory to a UMWA contract."

Jody Hogge, a retiree from Peabody Energy and president of UMWA Local 9819, also traveled to Wyoming with the UMWA.

As thousands prepare to gather in St. Louis April 29, a delegation of UMWA members is already in Wyoming to protest at the Arch Coal annual meeting in Wright, Wyo.

"These companies can run, but they can't hide," Hogge said. "They moved their meetings more than 1,000 miles from St. Louis because they don't want people to see what they're doing to us.

"They prefer to operate behind closed doors; we're here to keep those doors open and let everyone see exactly how these corporations behave."

The union is preparing to host its "largest rally yet" in St. Louis next week.

"When the bankruptcy court begins hearings on Monday about Patriot's demand for drastic, unnecessary cuts in the standard of living for active and retired miners – they're going to hear from us," Roberts said.

Roberts said it is imperative Patriot works with the union to ensure the most fair deal. The union, as well as Patriot, have indicated potential attempts to seek retribution from Peabody and Arch once the bankruptcy proceedings have ended.

"Mine workers shouldn't have to pay the price for a corporate scheme that didn't smell right when it started and still doesn't smell right today," Roberts said.

Miners from both Peabody, Arch and Patriot operations are being joined by union partners from within the UMWA and several other organizations.

"If they're going to try to take my benefits away, they're going to have to look me in the eye while they do it," said Kenneth Vincent, a retired miner who worked for Peabody. "I kept my promise and went to work every day.

"We're not going to let these corporate executives get away with making a promise to us and our families at the bargaining table, signing a legal contract – and then just walking away from it when it no longer suits them."