WASHINGTON, D.C. — United Mine Workers Union President Cecil Roberts says he plans to meet next week with several thousand union miners who work for Murray Energy to help prepare them for how Murray’s bankruptcy proceedings will unfold.

Cecil Roberts

Roberts said Friday on MetroNews “Talkline” he’s all too familiar with coal companies in bankruptcy court. He said one of the first things to change will be the union’s contract with Murray and health care benefits. Roberts said Murray will hire financial advisors, like other coal companies have, to help it through bankruptcy. He said he knows the steps by heart.

“These advisors will see to it that the collective bargaining agreement that’s in place in northern West Virginia that Murray Energy and the UMWA negotiated–it will be terminated,” Roberts said. “The law requires them to bargain with us (a new contract) but they don’t have to agree to anything.”

Roberts said the union does not have to accept what Murray offers but it’s a tough position to take.

“We can strike over that but that’s not exactly where we want to be but we’re not going to take some type of contract that takes us back to 1953 either,” Roberts said.

Murray Energy announced its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing Oct. 29, after a month foregoing payments to debt-holders.

Murray’s filings showed $2.7 billion in debt and more than $8 billion in actual or potential legacy obligations under various pension and benefit plans.

“Although Murray has been able to outlast many of its competitors, mounting debt and legacy liability expenses have become too heavy of a burden to sustain under current industry conditions,” new company president Robert Moore.wrote in a 39-page statement.

Murray has said it plans to keep its operations open during the reorganization. It has several mines in Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Marshall and Ohio counties.

Roberts said Murray is going to propose taking $5 an hour off of pension benefits and eliminate retiree health care coverage.

“We believe the actives keep their coverage because they are going to be working,” Roberts said.

The American Miners Act of 2019 introduced in the U.S. Senate this week includes a health care provision for Murray miners and those from Westmoreland Coal and Mission Coal.

Roberts said in bankruptcy the savings come off the backs of current and former workers.

“There’s not going to be some grand plan here that says ‘this is how we increase the price of coal.’ You’re not going to do that in bankruptcy. All you can do is save money,” Roberts said. “And you need someone from Chicago or New York (advisors) to tell you that, right?”