Members of the United Mine Workers of America who work at Patriot Coal operations in West Virginia and Kentucky ratified a settlement Aug. 16 that the union reached with the company late last week. The agreement, according to the UMWA, makes improvements in terms and conditions of employment over a federal Bankruptcy Judge's order from last May.
The final vote was 85 percent in favor of the settlement agreement. A news release from the UMWA stated that 15 percent of its members opposed the agreement. Members from 13 local unions participated in the vote, which was overseen by UMWA local union tellers and conducted at work sites. The UMWA International Auditor/Tellers have certified the vote.
"The membership has made it clear that they are willing to do their part to keep Patriot operating, keep their jobs and ensure that thousands of retirees continue getting the health care they depend on and deserve," UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said in a news release. "This has been a difficult and uncertain year for our members. But I believe that in the end, they understood that we had done a lot to improve what the judge had ordered. They also understood all that was at stake and resolved to move forward in a positive way."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., issued the following statement:
"Thanks to the incredible leadership up UMWA President Cecil Roberts, the settlement reached between Patriot Coal and the UMWA is a ray of hope for Patriot miners and retirees after their hard-earned pensions and health care benefits were jeopardized by May's court decision. Cecil waged a hard fought battle on behalf of his members who have suffered heartbreak in return for their loyalty and service to the industry for far too long.
"To help protect miners from similar situations going forward, I've put forward the Coal Accountability and Retired Employee Act, to give miners, retirees and their families the legal protections they've earned and deserve by holding employers accountable for the commitments they've made to their workers. I will never stop pushing for a legal system that considers workers and employers on a level playing field, and looking for ways to close egregious loopholes that allow companies to pad their profits by legally escaping promises they made."
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also issued a statement after the vote.:
"In today's toxic environment, it is easy to be against compromise and walk away from negotiations. It is encouraging to see our labor and corporate leaders stand up, come together and find a solution necessary to preserve thousands of jobs, restore and protect the health and pension benefits that hardworking miners and their families earned and deserve.
"This settlement will give workers more input and allow them to share a stake in their destiny, while also providing hope and optimism for the future of the coal industry, which is vital to our state and our entire nation."