Thousands of union members and supporters gathered in the shadow of the Peabody Energy building in downtown St. Louis on April 29 to continue to call attention to the world’s largest coal producer’s efforts to rid its offshoot company of its contracted union obligations.
After hearing speeches from Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts and CWA President Larry Cohen, the participants staged a peaceful march to the Federal Courthouse where a bankruptcy hearing was being held for Patriot Coal. Spun off by Peabody in 2007, Patriot assumed more than $500 million in obligations for retiree health care owed to employees, retirees and their families. The following year, Patriot acquired Magnum Coal, which had been created by Arch Coal, and its additional $500 million in company retiree benefits.
Last year, Patriot filed for Chapter 11 reorganization, seeking to rid itself of its retiree health and pension obligations. In the filing, Patriot called these ‘unsustainable labor-related liabilities.” The MTD-affiliated Mine Workers has pointed out Patriot was run by former Peabody executives.
The union notes that as many as 22,000 active members, retirees, dependents and widows could be affected by Patriot’s bankruptcy.
The rally and march was set to coincide with Peabody’s annual stockholders meeting. However, the company moved its gathering to Wyoming at the last minute. But the Mine Workers were waiting there as well.
“We are here to save lives,” Roberts told the St. Louis crowd, which included members from MTD affiliates CWA, Steel Workers and AFSCME among others, some from as far as Virginia and Alabama. “People are coming from around the nation and around the world to be with us in this fight. They recognize that our fight is their fight.
“If Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Patriot can get away with their scheme to get out of their obligations to their retirees, then any company anywhere can do the same thing.”
Cohen told the assembled, “Our union will absolutely take this fight as our fight. We absolutely understand that if the courts of this country can do this, they can do anything.”
Following the march to the courthouse, Roberts, Cohen and 14 others sat down in protest and were arrested.
The MTD Executive Board endorsed a statement of support for the Mine Workers at its February meeting. For more information about the struggle, visit www.FairnessAtPatriot.org .