UMWA President Cecil Roberts and national AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka say the labor movement won’t go away until union miners and retirees are treated fairly in the Patriot Coal bankruptcy.
Both leaders gave fiery speeches at a rally and march Monday in Charleston. The crowd at the march was estimated at being close to 10,000.
The UMWA has been on a campaign against Patriot Coal since the company filed for bankruptcy. It blames Peabody and Arch coal companies for forming Patriot with a design to fail. The union says many of its retirees never worked for Patriot and now that company has control of their pension benefits. Patriot has filed a motion to break the current contract with the union.
Roberts and 15 other people were arrested on the steps of Laidley Tower in downtown Charleston. Patriot’s offices are in that building.
Before the march and arrests Roberts fired up the crowd that had union attendees from several states.
“This is a crime. We’ve been bamboozled, ripped off, robbed, tricked, lied to. This can’t stand,” Roberts said.
The AFL-CIO’s Trumka, a former UMWA president, vowed to stop what’s happening.
“Not this time. Not this time,” Trumka screamed. “And not these workers. We won’t allow them to take the money and run and not take the workers with them.”
Several West Virginia elected officials spoke to the crowd including U.S. Senator Joe Manchin who said there was no way for the coal companies to spin what’s happened.
“You can’t shine crap and by god this is crap,” Manchin said. “You can’t make this stuff look good. You can’t make it smell good and you sure as hell can’t make it taste good.”
Third District Congressman Nick Rahall urged the miners to keep fighting and West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said all workers are at risk if Patriot is allowed to get away with what it’s trying to do.
The UMWA had worked ahead of time with the City of Charleston and Charleston Police Dept. on the rally, march and arrests.
Peabody Coal has previously refuted the union’s “designed to fail” claim calling it a “desperate attempt to rewrite history.”
“A series of other unforeseen events affecting all coal producers followed – all on Patriot’s watch,” the company has said.