RAMPS Supports Union Miners in Their Struggle to Ensure Pensions, Healthcare Benefits

Saturday, September 29th, 2012
posted by fern

RAMPS stands with all of the union members, retirees, and their families who are fighting to make sure that they do not lose vital benefits like health care as Patriot goes through bankruptcy. We Support the UMWA’s  “Fighting for Fairness at Patriot” campaign and believe that Patriot must be held to its promises under the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement (NBCWA).

It’s perfectly clear what Peabody’s intentions were when it spun off all of its eastern unionized mines into Patriot Coal and then saddled the new company with unrealistic legacy costs. Transferred costs included healthcare and pensions for thousands of Patriot retirees, hundreds of millions in black lung and workers compensation liabilities, and liabilities for already closed mines. Patriot also represents Arch’s shed legacy costs because of its purchase of Magnum Coal Company, Arch’s 2005 spin-off.

Although 90% of those receiving these benefits from Patriot never even worked for the company, their healthcare and pensions could still be at risk depending on the requests that Patriot makes in Bankruptcy court. Patriot is now responsible for benefits for three times as many retired workers as the company employs, and though Peabody’s board of directors intentionally created this setup in 2007, Patriot is now trying to argue its way out of its responsibilities in court. The 1974 Pension Plan fund could lose its ability to pay pensions if Patriot, the fund’s second-largest contributor, pulls out. Future pension rights are also at risk.

We condemn Peabody for bleeding assets into Patriot, as well as for filing under a shell corporation in order to keep the bankruptcy case in New York and away from those who could be most affected by Patriot’s potential reorganization. Many miners have put their lives and health on the line working at mines owned by Peabody, Arch, and Patriot; some have even been injured or killed on the job. They and their families deserve the benefits that have been won over the years in union negotiations with these companies.

Patriot’s attempts to cheat workers and their families from their hard-earned benefits is part of a larger pattern. Many coal companies have made huge profits off of the land and people of Appalachia. Yet as coal diminishes in a region, they leave behind black lung, cancer, polluted land and water, and a depressed economy as they seek profit elsewhere. As coal production wanes in West Virginia, it is no longer adequate to have minesite reclamation funded by a per-ton tax on coal. Instead of laying-off workers, coal companies should employ them to reclaim disturbed land using the best techniques available. Instead of arguing about who is a better friend of coal, politicians in Charleston need to be friends of the people of West Virginia and make plans to stimulate the economy and create employment after coal.

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