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UMWA, Peabody & Patriot Reach Agreement for Retiree Health Care

UMWA Pres Cecil Roberts rallies Mine Workers and supporters in St Louis last month.
UMWA Pres Cecil Roberts rallies Mine Workers and supporters in St Louis last month.

MTD-affiliate United Mine Workers of America announced it has reached a global settlement with Peabody Energy and Patriot Coal that will provide funding of more than $400 million to cover future health care benefits for retirees affected by the bankruptcy of Patriot. The benefits will be paid by the Patriot Retirees Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA).

Peabody will make payments totaling $310 million over the next four years with the proceeds being applied to future retiree health care benefits. Patriot has agreed to contribute $15 million to the VEBA in 2014 with up to an additional $60 million to be paid into the fund during the following three years. This is in addition to the production-based royalty payments Patriot will make to the VEBA that could provide more than $15 million. The union will relinquish the value of virtually all of its 35 percent stake in Patriot, which the UMWA received as part of the May federal bankruptcy ruling.

“I am very pleased that we have been able to reach this agreement with Peabody and Patriot,” stated UMWA President Cecil Roberts. “This is a significant amount of money that will help maintain health care for thousands of retirees who earned those benefits through years of labor in America’s coal mines. This settlement will also help Patriot emerge from bankruptcy and continue to provide jobs for our members and thousands of others in West Virginia and Kentucky.”

The MTD has stood with the Mine Workers throughout this ordeal. Following an address by UMWA Secretary-Treasurer (and MTD Executive Board Member) Daniel Kane, the board at its February meeting passed a statement of support. Delegates to the department’s convention in September unanimously endorsed a resolution not only calling for justice for the Mine Workers, but also for changes in the nation’s bankruptcy laws that would better protect working people. Finally, MTD Executive Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Duncan joined Roberts and 13 others in solidarity by being arrested outside Peabody Energy’s headquarters in St. Louis in late last month.

Meanwhile, the Mine Workers continue to work to reach a settlement for those members and retirees who came from Arch Coal, prior it spinning off its $400 million obligation for retiree health care in 2005 to Magnum Coal. Magnum was purchased by Patriot in 2008.

Stated Roberts, “Arch still can step up and meet its obligation to these retirees. We will continue to encourage them to do so in the coming days.

The UMWA president added that the settlement “still does not provide the level of funding needed to maintain health care for these retirees forever.” The union will continue its efforts to pass congressional bipartisan legislation to place the retirees under the Coal Act, which would secure long-term health care benefits with no additional taxpayer costs. Such legislation is making its way in both the Senate and the House.

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