April 10, 2013
By Stephanie West
Charleston,West Virginia – Coming from the coalfields of Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia – Over 7,000 miners and supporters on April 1, 2013, packed into the giant Charleston Civic Center to voice their support for the 23,000 miners and their families who face the loss of their lifetime health benefits in a bankruptcy scam.
In a series of mergers and deals, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal transferred their contractual health benefit obligations to Patriot Coal. In March, 2013, Patriot Coal filed in bankruptcy court seeking to terminate the United Mine Workers (UMWA) contract and set up instead a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) for the retirees and families.
UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts has said this plan would “put thousands of retired coal miners, their dependents or their widows on the path to financial ruin, worsening health conditions or even death.”
The UMWA pioneered a comprehensive healthcare benefits and pensions program The union won early retirement with family coverage for miners who retired before they were 65 and were in poor health. These achievements of the miners’ struggles are under attack by Patriot, Peabody, and Arch. Most unions now negotiate contracts with employers picking up the cost of health care until Medicare kicks in. The attack on UMWA retirees is a snapshot of what employers have in store for union negotiated programs.