The United Mine Workers Union isn’t letting up in the their protest of Patriot Coal. Monday, the union responded to motions by Patriot to break the current contract with the UMWA.
The company seeks to eliminate the current agreement on health care benefits and move retirees into a Voluntary Employee Benefits Agreement. Patriot proposed funding the VEBA with $15-Million. UMWA President Cecil Roberts told reporters in St. Louis such action, if allowed, would effectively eliminate retiree health care since the current cost of the plan is $80-Million a year.
“We don’t care where the benefits come from as long as we have healthcare for these retirees,” said Roberts who is adamant the retired miners and their widows will be taken care of at the end of the bankruptcy. “There will not be an agreement with the union that leaves the retirees without health care. That’s a pretty bold statement, but I believe it’s the correct statement because someone owes these people health care.”
Roberts is also critical of attorney fees being paid by Patriotover the bankruptcy proceeding.
“They’re paying their lawyers $16-Million dollars and want to pay $7-Million in bonuses to people already making a lot of money,” he said. “We’re fighting a battle against corporations that have more money than some countries. We might be better off getting into a fight with Brazil than with Peabody and Arch.”
The union contended Patriot was initially set up as a spin-off company from Peabody Coal and Arch Coal as a way to shed massive liabilities for retiree health care and pensions. Placing all of those liabilities on Patriot landed the company in bankruptcy. UMWA leaders contend that was the plan all along.
“Folks who take a shower after work don’t get as much justice as folks who take a shower before they go to work. I can tell you that,” said Roberts.
Roberts said the goal is to draw attention to their plight. He believes the repeated demonstrations are working and more are joining their side from many parts of the working community.
“I believe we will win this case, because this was set up to fail. I don’t care what that thousand-dollar-an-hour guy told you,” Roberts told a reporter in St. Louis.
Union members plan another protest march in St. Louis Tuesday. Roberts expected to be arrested for civil disobedience a second time in the gathering. The union is also planning a large rally in Charleston April 1st with a march to Patriot’s headquarters in West Virginia. Union members expect to be arrested in that demonstration as well.