The fight by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to defend pensions for the former workers of Peabody coal is a battle for basic human dignity against a rapacious and immoral employer. The fact that losing their pension also means that they lose health care, is a further poignant reminder of how much we must fight to retain the British NHS, a state owned system of free universal health care.
According to the UMWA:
Patriot Coal, created by Peabody Energy 2007 with 43 percent of Peabody’s liabilities but just 11 percent of its assets, filed for bankruptcy in July, 2012. Patriot has filed motions demanding the effective elimination of the current system of health care for retired miners and drastic pay and benefit cuts for active workers. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kathy Surratt-States is scheduled to rule on the company’s motions on or before May 29.
Because Patriot was created with insufficient assets to meet its liabilities to retired miners, analysts such as Bruce Rader, Professor of Finance at Temple University, have described the company as “designed to fail.” Current Patriot CEO Ben Hatfield has acknowledged that “something doesn’t smell right” about the manner in which his company was founded.
In 2008, Patriot acquired Magnum Coal, a company created by Arch Coal featuring a similar shift of assets and liabilities.
Peabody Energy and Arch Coal executives claim that because Patriot and Magnum were spun off years ago, they have nothing to with the current litigation. But nearly all of the retired miners who may lose their health care worked most or all of their careers for Peabody or Arch, not Patriot.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that Patriot has been set up deliberately to take over the pension and health liabilities from Peabody, and then designed to go bankrupt, stealing benefits from 23000 pensioners.
Three days ago, more than 4,500 members and supporters of the United Mine Workers marched and rallied in downtown St. Louis. Protestors were joined by former AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Barbara Easterling, Missouri State Representative Karla May and Rev. John Stratton of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri.
Fourteen miners and supporters, including United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts and Easterling were arrested for trespassing after sitting down on South 10th Street in front of the federal courthouse, in a peaceful act of non-violent civil disobedience.
Included in those arrested were Larry Knisell, a Peabody retiree from Morgantown, W. Va., and his son Chuck, who works at a mine in Pennsylvania and is president of UMWA Local Union 2300. “My Mom and Dad were there for me when I was growing up, taught me what was right and what was wrong,” Chuck Knisell said. “He’s counting on those benefits. I wanted to be there for him today.”
Tom Kacsmar, a retiree from UMWA Local Union 6362 was arrested along with his wife, Margie. “We both depend on the health care benefits he earned in all those years in the mines,” Margie said. “I was proud to stand with him.”
The UMWA have made a great video, (see above), and it ends on an inspiring message from the union’s President Cecil Roberts: “People say we aren’t as big as we were, but it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog”