Local United Mine Workers of America members are once again boarding a bus and making the trip to St. Louis to protest what they're calling unfair treatment in the Patriot Coal bankruptcy proceedings.
Tuesday will be the third protest in front of Peabody Energy's headquarters this year.
Patriot Coal went bankrupt this past summer, and the company now says it can't honor it's health benefits and pension promises to it's retirees. The problem is that the UMWA says many of the retirees involved never worked for Patriot. The retirees worked for Peabody Energy which created Patriot as a spin-off a few years ago.
The UMWA claims Peabody did this on purpose, so they could back out of the promised benefits. About 50 UMWA members left from Fairmont early Monday morning, and we're told they are joining hundreds of other members once they get to St. Louis.
"We're letting the public know what a ruthless company Peabody is. They got the best out of the employees. We mined them millions and millions of tons of coal, and they just throw us away like a broken pair of channellocks," said Larry Knisell, a retired Peabody mine worker. Knisell said he never worked for Patriot one day in his 27 years on the job, but he said his retirement benefits are being taken away now that Patriot has gone bankrupt.
The UMWA says they'll continue to fight for their cause until the very end.
Peabody Energy released the following statement on the matter:
Patriot was highly successful following its launch more than five years ago with significant assets, low debt levels and a market value that more than quadrupled in less than a year. At the time, trade publications cited the dream team of top management, and analysts touted a bright future based on solid prospects and a strong balance sheet.
It's worth noting the major events that occurred after Patriot became independent and before its bankruptcy. Patriot chose to make a major acquisition, went through the global financial crisis and effects of low-cost shale gas on coal demand, experienced EPA regulation that significantly raised environmental compliance costs, and saw metallurgical coal prices decline.
The UMWA retirees in question all worked for companies that are part of Patriot Coal, and Patriot's launch only occurred after the UMWA and its leadership specifically signed off on the retiree benefit payment structure with which Patriot started as an independent company. In 2011, Patriot and the UMWA renegotiated a collective bargaining agreement and chose not to change this benefits structure.
Peabody has lived up to its obligations and continues to do so. The UMWA is fully aware that this is a matter solely between the union and Patriot Coal, and the proper process for deciding such issues is through the bankruptcy court - not the court of public opinion.