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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  • jeff

    Guess what patriots non Union workers, the court ruling gives you another pay cut. You have no one to speak up for you. Yes the union lost the first battle but there is more to come. You just sit on your bottom like good little boys & girls, Patriot will take care of you, but you probably won't like it.

  • Lee

    My grandfather is 78 years old. He is one of the most honest and hardworking men I know. His 42 years of dedication helped build the company, that has long forgotten about the medical hardship he now has from an unhealthy occupation.

  • d c

    for you people who are making these comments you need to have walked in my coal mining boots for just one day and then say we don't deserve what we were promised.

  • Tired

    Read again zero you post of unions creating our own problems this story is about earned income being taken away from union employees nothing to with a dress code on that point I agree. As far as my company suck comment it comes from my head to my mouth from watching people with your mentality try to get ahead by selling out fellow employees so company suck yes if the shoe fits lace it up

  • JimJim

    How do you like BIG COAL now? Someone will pay their healthcare, Maybe Obamacare will save them. It's their only hope, BIG COAL will not.

  • FungoJoe

    Liberal demoncrats + labor union thuggery ==
    America's ruination.

  • Joe

    I was probably unfair with my Lewis County teacher comment. After all, it was masters degree, professional childishness.

    My bad.

  • Joe

    Per Zero's comments on Lewis County the teachers don't like a 'dress code' for them? What a shame. It's okay to have a dress code and drug testing for the kids...but whoa...just tell teachers they also must abide by one and watch the childishness start.

  • Unconvinced

    If Patriot was setup to fail then why did the Union leadership agree to the contract. They didn't have to agree to it.

    How much money has the Union collected over the years from their members? Now when it comes to actually paying someone since the company can't. the Union isn't ready to pay the bill

    What does the Union "protect" anymore? Companies can't not afford lawsuits and injuries because of their bottom line. Do unions get higher wages, no not in most cases. Do unions get more benefits, no. Does the union have your back, probably not if its going to effect their bottom line

    Funny that Union loyalist are fighting against "big business" but the union is actually a "big business"

    • Aaron

      Not one retired miner from either Peabody or Arch voted in favor of a Patriot Coal contract. Why should they be bound by those agreements?

  • Brian

    I generally am critical of unions. Based on a very cursory knowledge of this case, it looks very likely that Peabody and Arch did do exactly as the union accuses. If so, it is absolutely unconscionable. Sounds like fraud to me, and it should be vigorously prosecuted.

  • Aaron

    While I agree that a company should be able to file bankruptcy in order to survive, I have no doubt that Patriot Coal was indeed set up to fail.

    Had either Arch or Peabody went out of business, shifting legacy cost would have been acceptable but as both remain in business, legacy cost for the retires should be restored to the company from which the employees retired.

  • zerotolerance

    Another positive role for unions:

    Lewis County teachers say their rights will be violated if the Lewis County Board of Education moves forward with an employee dress code.

    A large group of teachers and a UNION REPRESENTATIVE spoke at Wednesday night's board meeting. That was when there was a first reading of a policy that would ban jeans, shorts and regulate the length of skirts among other changes was on the agenda.

    The board will have a second reading on the issue at the next meeting.

    On Wednesday, the board also recognized students for writing, choral and athletics.

    • zerotolerance

      How dressing professional for your employer (schools) and your client (students) is a violation of one's rights is beyond me.

  • Rick

    If this judge couldn't determine what everyone else was able to, that Patriot was setup to fail, the corporate states of america won again...
    If your labor, union workers watch out, your next...
    What a sad day for workers in general.

    • GregG

      Big Business always wins. Why some many can't open their eyes and see what big business is doing to this country is beyond me.

  • 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.