United Mine Workers Union President Cecil Roberts says an updated plan filed by Patriot Coal in its bankruptcy case appears to be a step in the right direction.
Roberts responded Friday after Patriot filed court papers in bankruptcy court earlier this week.
Patriot says the UMWA would get an equity stake of 35 percent in a reorganized company. In the latest proposal, the UMWA would also be given an unsecured claim in the bankruptcy.
UMWA President Roberts issued a statement Friday afternoon:
“While we are working with our financial advisors to fully analyze the amended Section 1114 proposals made by Patriot Coal yesterday with respect to health care for retired miners, their dependents and widows, this appears to be a step forward by the company.
“There are still considerable problems with the company’s intentions to change the existing contract for active workers under the Section 1113 process. We are nowhere near a fair and just agreement regarding that part of this equation.
“We continue to believe that an agreement can be reached that provides Patriot with the short-term relief it needs to emerge from bankruptcy, keep people working and become a profitable company again without putting retirees’ lives at risk or demanding the deep sacrifices the company says it needs from hourly workers. We will continue our discussions with the company on these issues,” Roberts said.
Patriot filed for bankruptcy last July for what it called declining demand for coal and obligations to pay $1.6 billion in lifetime health care for its 8,100 retirees.
Patriot has been seeking to reduce costs by negotiating with UMWA members. The company has said it needs to shed at least $150 million more in labor expenses in order to avoid liquidation.
UMWA members have been adamantly against Patriot’s bankruptcy proceedings since the beginning and have rallied numerous times against the company, the most recent being April 1 in Charleston where more than 7,000 members and supporters came out.
UMWA officials claim that Patriot was designed to fail by Peabody and Arch coal companies to get out of their union-negotiated benefit obligations by putting them into a new company that would soon go bankrupt. Patriot has denied the claims.