HENDERSON, Ky. — United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts told a large crowd in Kentucky Tuesday the UMWA won’t back down in the face of a federal bankruptcy judge’s ruling.
“I don’t give a damn what that judge did,” Roberts railed to a roar of applause. “We march today. We stand today not because we want more money, we want justice today.”
The large crowd packed the courthouse lawn of the small western Kentucky town in a rally similar to those the union has staged numerous times in St. Louis and Charleston, W.Va. But it was the first rally since Judge Kathy A. Surratt-States, of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, ruled Patriot could break the present collective bargaining agreement with the UMWA.
Roberts, told MetroNews Talkline this week, negotiations have been ongoing and continue in hopes of finding a solution. Roberts said the present arrangement leaves 22,000 retirees facing loss of pension and health care benefits. He placed the blame squarely at the feet of Peabody Coal and Arch Coal Company.
“We’ve also got to figure out some way to take our claim on behalf of these pensioners, turn it into cash to pay health care bills, at the same time we’re reaching an accommodation with Patriot,” he said on Talkline.
In her ruling, Judge Surratt-States encouraged the union not to strike the company. Roberts told MetroNews for the time being a strike would be “high risk” since it could put Patriot out of business. But during Tuesday’s fiery rhetoric, Roberts hinted a strike may not be out of the question against other players.
“Whenever we get the numbers to where they can’t ignore us. When we get to marching and we get to protesting, if we have to we’ll sit down in front of Peabody’s coal mines,” Roberts shouted to the crowd in Henderson.
Soon after the rally ended, the gathered throng once again marched to the local courthouse and 14 union members including Roberts, sat down in another show of civil disobedience. Law enforcement again arrested those who refused to move in their non-violent demonstration.
Roberts called the demonstration a growing movement. He said the fight had grown beyond the coal industry and the corporate move which created Patriot could happen in any other industry if allowed to stand.