The United Mine Workers of America refuses to sit by during bankruptcy proceedings for Patriot Coal. Union members staged a demonstration outside of the federal bankruptcy court in St. Louis Tuesday, then marched to the headquarters of Peabody Coal.
“Corporations pay lawyers a lot of money to figure out how to do things like this,” said UMWA President Cecil Roberts speaking to the St. Louis media ahead of Tuesday’s rally. “This might somehow end up being legally correct, but it’s morally corrupt.”
Roberts was led away from Peabody Coal headquarters in handcuffs along with several other union members after refusing to leave. It was civil disobedience Roberts promised well before the event. He and the UMWA are fighting the bankruptcy of Patriot which threatens the retirement health care benefits of thousands of retired UMWA members. The miners threatened by the settlement never worked for Patriot Coal, but instead retired after spending their careers working for Peabody Coal and Arch Mineral.
Roberts says Patriot was a spin-off company designed with the expressed purpose of carrying the legacy obligations promised by Peabody and Arch to their retirees. The move, according to Roberts, made Arch and Peabody among the largest and most profitable coal companies in America and burdened Patriot with costs it could never hope to cover.
The future of the retirees now lies with the decision of a bankruptcy court.
“People may say, ‘Well gee, the bankruptcy judge did A or the bankruptcy judge did B.’ but that’s not the issue with us,” Roberts said. “The issue with us is justice and fairness and what’s right and what’s wrong. And this is wrong.”
Roberts called Tuesday’s protest in St. Louis the beginning and promised the union would be back repeatedly until they are given what they were promised by the two companies.
“When coal miners say they’ll never forget……they don’t,” Roberts said.