CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the United Mine Workers of America in West Virginia and Kentucky overwhelmingly ratified a labor settlement with Patriot Coal on Friday.
UMWA workers from 13 local unions at Patriot Coal operations in the two states participated in the vote, with 85 percent favoring the agreement that followed months of negotiations.
“The membership has made it clear that they are willing to do their part to keep Patriot operating, keep their jobs and ensure that thousands of retirees continue getting the healthcare they depend on and deserve,” said UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts in a news release.
Reached last week, the agreement was announced Monday to the union membership for consideration. The UMWA claimed the new deal makes significant improvements to a federal bankruptcy judge’s order from May, which made steep wage cuts.
The ratified contract includes the restoration of all but $1 an hour in wages, an annual pay increase of 50 cents per hour beginning Jan. 1, 2015, a reduction in the annual out-of-pocket maximum for healthcare benefits and a decision by Patriot to remain in the UMWA 1974 Pension Fund, meaning no pension benefits for current retirees are affected.
“Ratification of these agreements provides labor stability and ensures cost savings essential to Patriot’s plan of reorganization,” said Patriot president and CEO Bennett K. Hatfield in a news release. ”These agreements should set Patriot on a path to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of 2013.”
While the agreement could end months of protests by the UMWA over Patriot’s bankruptcy filing, Roberts said the union has other contentions that must be addressed.
“We are now able to turn our full attention to securing the lifetime healthcare benefits Peabody and Arch promised these retirees,” Roberts said in the release. “If those companies thought our public effort to highlight their poor corporate citizenship was over, they will quickly find out otherwise. We’re moving into a new phase of that effort, and soon we fully intend to hold Peabody and Arch accountable.”
Roberts and the UMWA claim Arch and Peabody intentionally set up Patriot to fail in order to drain off pension and healthcare obligations.
“This settlement has not solved that problem, it has only bought us time to seek a more permanent solution,” said Roberts.
A motion seeking authorization to enter into these agreements with the UMWA has been filed with the Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis and will be heard at the Aug. 20 hearing.