CHARLESTON, W.Va.–A federal bankruptcy judge says Patriot Coal can eliminate its collective bargaining agreement with the United Mine Workers of America and change retiree health care benefits as it tries to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Roberts has been arrested several times for civil disobedience in union rallies against Patriot plan.

Wednesday’s ruling by St. Louis-based U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States is a blow to the UMWA. Union President Cecil Roberts said the ruling is “wrong, unfair and fails to fully recognize the coming wave of human suffering that will be experienced by thousands of people throughout the coalfields.”

The union has held a number of emotional rallies in recent months in Charleston and St. Louis blaming Patriot’s financial problems on Peabody and Arch coal companies. Roberts has claimed many times Patriot was set up to fail when it was formed by Peabody with more liabilities than assets in 2007. The next year Patriot purchased Magnum Coal from Arch, which shifted retiree benefits to the new company.

Patriot President and CEO Ben Hatfield called the ruling “a major step forward for Patriot, allowing our company to achieve savings that are critical to our reorganization and the preservation of more than 4,000 jobs,”

Roberts says it’s not surprising that bankruptcy court “cares more about the short-term interests of the company that it does the dedication of thousands of workers.”  He says the union will appeal the ruling to U.S. District Court.

The door is now open for Patriot to pay its union workers less. The union says that will also mean eliminating some paid time off and increasing out-of-pocket health care costs. Patriot can also begin changing retirement benefits to thousands of retirees, many who did not work for Patriot, as early as July 1.

Judge Surratt-States said in her ruling the union has to take some responsibility for Patriot’s financial problems.

“Unions generally try to bargain for the best deal for their members,” she wrote. She also said Congress can be blamed for unfunded retiree medical costs along with “the benign neglect and false hopes of companies and unions alike.”

The UMWA’s Roberts says the union’s fight is not over.

“But I want to make it emphatically clear that despite this ruling, the UMWA’s effort to win fairness for these active and retired workers is by no means over,” Roberts said in a statement. “Indeed, this ruling makes it more important than ever for the architects of this travesty, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, to take responsibility for the obligations they made to thousands of retirees who are now at imminent risk.”

The union has a lawsuit against both Peabody and Arch in Charleston.

Roberts says he will continue to have talks with Patriot; in fact, he was speaking with the company Wednesday afternoon not long after the judge’s ruling came out.

Patriot’s Hatfield says for the coming days the company plans to continue to operate under the current UMWA contracts.

“Patriot management will continue diligent negotiations with the UMWA leadership to address their concerns about our court-approved proposals,” Hatfield said in a prepared statement. “While the Court has given Patriot the authority to impose these critical changes to the collective bargaining agreements, and our financial needs mandate implementation by July 1, we continue to believe that a consensual resolution is the best possible outcome for all parties.”

Patriot has previously offered the union a 35 percent stake in the new company.

The next UMWA rally is set for next Tuesday, June 4, in Henderson, Ky., where more than 4,000 people are expected.


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  • zerotolerance

    Union rhetoric, union tactics, union, union, union have long outlived their purpose and intent. it has crushed business opportunities in this state and kept us at the very bottom over nearly every category.

    • Tired

      I am union and proud of it. I make decent wage and have some workplace rights. These are the things the union does for me. I feel they are relevant. The only ones who don't think unions are relevant are usually company sucks and supervisors that want to screw over honest employees.

      • zero tolerance

        Company suck? Really is that your BEST unionized response. So typical. You get that off the back of your union card next to your job description? Educate yourself, take your brotherhood blinders off and realize that your union is the problem not every other possible place to lay blame.

        • RHytonen

          The Fascist collusion of government and industry (<--Mussolinis' DEFINITION of Fascism,)

          in order to rob and fleece the working public, (what Bastiat called {PLUNDER,)

          -IS THE PROBLEM.
          And it's HUGE today.
          First the LAWS, now the COURTS?

          After its history of devastation by underregulated extraction corporations RUN WILD,
          (see: Matewan, Blair Mountain, Mother Jones, etc;) West Virginia, of ALL people, should KNOW BETTER!

          And undying SHAME on the duped (or bribed) corporatist sellouts posting anti-union, anti-worker, anti-consumer, taxpayer-robbing pro-corporate propaganda on this comment site.
          "Coal is your friend?"
          They're actually your oppressors and predators. Just like frackers.
          Remember history.

  • Tired

    Wow talk about freaking clueless here's one for the union haters......if union jobs didn't keep wages fair the nonunion sucks would make less too. This is a fact.

  • GregG

    Once again the working middle class get screwed while Big Business comes out smiling like a rose. I'm sure all the Reagan worshippers are happy with this outcome.

    • Reagan

      Get off that liberal Kool-Aid, that stuff will kill ya. Seems to me that these contacts were made in the 80's when business was good. Now O'bama's EPA has almost sunk the coal industry and companies are supposed to pay how?

      • GregG

        Maybe you should lay down that crack pipe.

        • Reagan

          Maybe you should put down your purse and start thinking for yourself instead of repeating what you hear like a trained bird.

          • GregG

            That is the difference between me and you..... and your like minded Ditto head listening, Fox news watching, Reagan worshipping pals.....I think for myself.

      • Colette Martin

        Get your facts straight! Read the article in SourceWatch about Peabody Energy (Coal). They are the #1 Coal Company in the world. They are not hurting or going under anytime in our lifetime.

  • Jeff

    The point your missing is that these people retired under the pretense of healthcare for life and social security. Some of them over 20 years ago. I don't think financial retirement planning was high on the bucket list in the 80's.

  • Mountain Man

    Good move for the judge. If the unions would have worked with the company then they would not be in this position. Add in Obamacare and it makes it even worse. As far as retirees that is the individuals responsibility to make sure that they have enough. Depending on government or companies is a huge mistake.

  • wirerowe

    All legacy costs should be first dollar in and first dollar out. I understand bankruptcy severing the union successor clause in the contract. But the current bankruptcy law is too one sided and doesn't give retirees adequate protection. The judge said that the union overshot the mark and bargained for too generous a health and pension benefits package. This is a very weak argument . Both parties agreed to legacies that the company cannot now cover. I think that there has to be a better outcome for the retirees even if it can't be proved that the merger was a sham to shed the legacies.

  • Tim C

    Goodbye UMWA....and good riddance!

    • d c

      I have one thing to say to you I hope that one day you need someone and they laugh in your face

    • Mountain Man

      I am with you brother.

  • old low coal miner

    I found out back in the 80,s that the union was several guys taking care of there buddy's and I was not one of them they made a deal to call back who they wanted to ( buddy's ) and not call back by the list . So I got 13 years union time worth almost nothing and was told by union people over and over that they had got there time in and did not care about anything do it yourself boss I was there foreman . I have a large 401 no debt and want for nothing. How who is better off ? No one is going to take care of you but YOU !! live by this don't be fooled.

    • Nothing is lasting

      The government will take your 401 k down to nothing..,,The only thing that will see people through is, God.. It's his time now..

      • old low coal miner

        I have been told by many people don,t save someone will take it or the government will. I have been told a thousand times how not to save money and look out for yourself we have became a country of people that want someone to take of us and not we take care of yourself as for god waste not want not earn your living by the sweat of your brail.

  • Jeff

    Rather than play the blame game, we should worry about these retired miners. The current workers have time to bounce back. Those that have retired can't plan for higher costs or less income. Many of them also are very ill from the work they performed. That's what was wrong about the decision. If you want to change going forward, that sometimes must be done, but never mistreat the sick and elderly.

    • Mountain Man

      Welcome to the new America.

  • Jason Grimes

    What the hell is this coming to when 1 judge or a so called judge, Mrs. Kathy Suratte States can make a decision that will affect millions of Hard-working dedicated men and women whether they are retired or not, who has worked in the mines all their lives having their benefits snapped right out from under them. Shame on you Mrs. States. You became a judge to uphold the rights of every person and YES that includes Hard working folks thats worked in the coal mines and not have their millions handed down to them by their mommies and daddies. I take it you must've been spoiled as a child Mrs. States

  • Tired

    Wow if the courts don't enforce a signed contract the door is now open. This judge has to be anti-union. Every day big companies are pushing more and more. I for one wish all these brothers and sisters my best.

  • thornton

    Cecil should take less pride in how many times he has been arrested.....and invest more work in understanding that the Union is not blameless in the situation re it's membership.
    Nice to see a judge note more bad actors than one in this play.

  • jeff wilkes

    The judge was completely wrong placing any part of patriots problems on the union. The co. Agreed to the contract with the union. The union members abided by the contract as honorable persons should. If they had not the co. Would have got an injunction against the union, which they did not have to do. Something just not right with this. The union does right and looses, the dishonorable wins. American workers you need to stand up for yourself before it is to late.

  • RogerD

    UMW members should tar and feather Roberts for his contribution to their demise. The judge that made the ruling mentioned the union was partly responsible. She didn't mention though that Roberts has worked hard to elect the very politicians that have killed the coal industry.

  • Smitty

    We gotta stick with President Roberts now more than ever! May God give him the wisdom to save our healthcare, our Union and our dignity. If anyone on this earth can do it, its Cecil. We love ya buddy!

    • Ax Man

      Save our health care???? You gotta be kidding.