Religious leaders release report on union battle with Patriot ba - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Religious-labor group says Patriot at war with the old and ill

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Interfaith Worker Justice and the Religious Leaders for Coalfield Justice claim that Arch and Peabody Coal are waging a war on the aging, ill and disabled.

The groups convened at a meeting in Charleston on April 9 to hear testimony of workers who are struggling under the possibility of losing retiree benefits as Patriot Coal goes through bankruptcy proceedings. The United Mine Workers of America has claimed that the progenitor company – Peabody Coal – purposely placed weak assets and crippling liabilities into the spinoff that created Patriot in 2007.

Later, Patriot purchased Magnum Coal, a collection of assets previously sold by Arch Coal. The union claims both Peabody and Arch are responsible for Patriot's bankruptcy, although both companies have argued that market conditions and decisions by Patriot leadership led to the downfall of Patriot.

"When Arch and Peabody spun off Magnum and Patriot, leading to Patriot's bankruptcy, they divested not only 23,000 people from their liability spread sheets; they withdrew from participation in a common-sense morality that has held Americans together as a people for over two centuries," the report states. "The foundations for this common-sense morality are political, cultural, and religious."

In a prior statement Arch spokeswoman Kim Link denied Arch's role culpability for the bankruptcy.  

"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. 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," she said.

Peabody's representative made a similar defense in response to an April story.

"The UMWA's claim that Patriot Coal was ‘designed to fail' is a desperate attempt to rewrite history," the statement said. "Patriot was highly successful following its launch more than five years ago with signifi.cant assets, low debt levels and a market value that more than quadrupled in less than a year."

The report further accuses of Peabody and Arch of abandoning "both political and cultural dimensions of our common morality."

"In their stead, they single-mindedly champion wealth and the freedom to acquire wealth irrespective of any national interests or human consequences," the report concludes. "Their schemes divide our people by pitting the power of wealth against the vulnerable, dismantling a mutually agreed-upon system of justice, fostering domestic affliction, ensuring corporate self-defense at the expense of our common defense, undermining the general welfare, and usurping the advantages of their liberty to the detriment of our posterity."

Patriot has offered a number of proposals, continually modified through negotiation with the UMWA. So far, an agreement has not been reached and Patriot has asked the bankruptcy court to step in and rule on a recent proposal.

The company's latest amendment to the proposal would offer the union a 35 percent equity stake in the company, making it the largest entity with ownership in the company. Benefits would still be significantly reduced but could prevent liquidation of the company, a result that would provide "next to nothing" for most of the parties involved.

A bankruptcy judge heard arguments from the union and Patriot but has not yet released a decision.

The group says it will stand behind the UMWA in its fight for preserving benefits. In its call for action, the group says it will be lobbying for legislation to exclude collective bargaining agreements from liquidation.

A copy of the report is available online: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1035/p/salsa/web/common/public/content?content_item_KEY=12368