Written by Karilynn Galiotos
Last updated on March 16, 2013 @ 1:50AM
Created on March 14, 2013 @ 7:45PM
The United Mine Workers of America has used the past few months to take their problems with Peabody Energy and Patriot Coal public. They claim Peabody intentionally sold off unionized mines to Patriot to avoid paying for health benefits and pension plans for about 20,000 retirees and beneficiaries. Peabody and Patriot deny these allegations. Most of the retirees involved never worked one shift for Patriot. Now that the company went bankrupt, they could lose everything.
Joe Brown is a retired coal miner with 33 years on the job. One early morning in February, he joined dozens of his UMWA brothers in a trip to Saint Louis. It wasn't just a vacation with the guys though. These men joined thousands of other UMWA members to take their fight with Peabody Energy right to their door step.
They argue Peabody Energy unloaded thousands of pension plans and health benefits into Patriot Coal. A company, they say, was designed to fail. Some of these men are willing sit in the street and get arrested to get their voices heard. On February 26th, Joe Brown was one of them.
5 News caught up with Brown a few days after that trip. He talked about his time in working at the Federal No. 2 mine in Blacksville. First as an Eastern employee, then Peabody for the most of his working career, but never once for Patriot. He says he just wants what he, and his fellow miners, were promised. "I need my benefits and earned them. I worked hard for this company. I worked extremely hard. Anybody who worked up there with me would tell you I give it a hundred percent," Brown said.
Brown said all that hard work caused injuries that required two back surgeries and a knee surgery. He said he also has black lung with 15% blockage.
Peabody Energy said the United Mine Workers signed off on the deal involved with the Patriot spin-off back in 2007. It also said the UMWA signed a new benefits agreement with Patriot in 2011. "Why are they spreading misinformation by suggesting black lung is an issue, or pensions are at risk. Why aren't they focusing on Patriot Coal and bankruptcy court when they sit on the creditors committee?" said Vic Svec, Senior Vice President for Investor Relations and Corporate Communications at Peabody Energy.
"We were concerned from the beginning of the spin-off, quite frankly, but it's pretty hard to sue someone because you think something might happen," said UMWA International District 31 Vice President Mike Caputo
Patriot issued 5 News a statement about the bankruptcy. "Our objective is to execute a successful reorganization that will result in the preservation of more than 4,000 jobs and provide meaningful distributions to retirees and other creditors," the statement read.
A bankruptcy judge will soon decide the fate of this matter. In the meantime, the UMWA and its members are prepared to fight until the end. Through the media campaign and rallies and what they call plain old morals, they hope to garner enough public pressure to sway the judge to order Patriot or Peabody to honor the retirees' benefits.
"I've had phone calls from people who went to work every day, never had a black mark on their record their entire career, that told me 'I'm willing to go to jail. I'm willing to stay in jail. I'm willing to go to jail again and again and again' because this is all they have," Caputo said.
"It would be like you don't know whether to go to the doctor and buy your medication or buy food, and you have to have both," said Brown, who will continue to stand up for his beliefs. He plans to be at the next protest in front of Peabody's headquarters when the bus leaves Fairmont again sometime next week.
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