The United Mine Workers are bringing their fight against Patriot, Peabody, and Arch Coal back to where it all started. The union plans a massive rally Monday in Charleston with more than 5,000 expected to participate.
“When you get in the heart of the coalfields, the people will respond,” said UMWA District 17 president Joe Carter. “When our president makes a call and wants them to show up and it’s this important, our coal miners and their families are going to be out there.”
The union is adamantly opposed to Patriot’s bankruptcy proceeding which threatens to cutoff retirement health care and pension benefits promised in previous contracts by Arch and Peabody. The union claims the two large corporations deliberately funneled the legacy costs onto the liability ledger of Patriot Coal when it was formed. They say it was an intentional move to free the bigger companies from their obligations by shedding them in Patriot’s anticipated bankruptcy.
“Anybody that looks at this scheme with the bankruptcy court, it could happen to anyone,” said Carter. “Not only are the union coal miners being affected, but even the company people that work for these companies, they’re being affected also.”
The union staged similar demonstrations in St. Louis in recent months outside of Peabody’s headquarters and U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Monday’s rally turns its attention to the headquarters of Patriot Coal at Charleston’s Laidley Tower.
“This is totally wrong and we’re on the right side,” Carter said. “Patriot is part of this scheme and most of the people that are employed with Patriot and have worked for Peabody and Arch are right here in the Charleston area.”
The event will begin with a rally at the Charleston Civic Center at 10 a.m. At 11:30 a.m., the crowd plans to march through the streets of Charleston to Laidley Tower. During previous events in St. Louis, several union members, including President Cecil Roberts, allowed themselves to be arrested for civil disobedience.
Among the speakers at the rally are U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, Congressman Nick Rahall, and AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka.
Carter said not since the Pittston Strike in the late 1980s in Southwest Virginia has the UMWA been involved in a matter so critical to the lives of members and retirees.