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Thousands March on Patriot Coal in Charleston, W.Va

April 1, 2013
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CHARLESTON, W.VA – Faith leaders and elected officials joined thousands of active and retired union members, families and concerned citizens today, marching to the offices of Patriot Coal in downtown Charleston, West Virginia.  Sixteen labor leaders, clergy and UMWA members were arrested during a non-violent protest in front of Patriot headquarters at Laidley Tower on Lee Street in Charleston.

Today’s march and rally, sponsored by the United Mine Workers of American (UMWA), supports the union’s  Fairness at Patriot campaign to save health care for retired mine workers and secure decent wages, health care, and working conditions for active miners.

The massive community and labor mobilization, overflowing the Charleston Civic Center, included dozens of busloads of marchers from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

“A lot of people, when they see the coal miner’s face covered with dust, all they see is that worker,” West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin told a packed crowd at the West Virginia Civic Center.  “I see a family, a wife, and children they are responsible for, and they’re working every day to make sure their family is taken care of, in case anything happens to them. Those are the benefits we’re talking about losing here today.  I will continue to encourage Patriot to be fair as we go through these negotiations. And we need to urge the bankruptcy court to be not only fair to retired miners, but to do what’s right.”

“Patriot and Peabody and Arch, I know these people,” said West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, “and I told them: Where I come from you can’t make wrong into right.  We’re not going to let it happen. We’ve given too much, we’ve sacrificed too much.  We’re going to make the changes we need for the working men and women of this country.”

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D, W.Va) told the crowd he will fight to maintain federal guarantees which ensure health and welfare funds for retired miners.  "That promise MUST be kept," he said. "It simply MUST be kept."Legislation introduced by Rahall, Sen. Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia – “will allow trustees [of mine workers health and pension funds] to reach back and make sure those entities who are responsible be held responsible.”

“In America, our word is our bond,” said Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.  “Peabody and Arch and Patriot, they want to just take the money and run.  Not this time, and not these workers. We won’t allow them to take the money and run without taking the worker with them. You can’t be a ‘friend of coal’ unless you’re a friend of coal miners.”

“This is a crime,” said UMWA President Cecil Roberts. “We’ve been robbed, tricked and lied to. This cannot stand – and with thousands of us from all over the country marching today and keeping us this fight tomorrow, it will not stand.”

Patriot Coal was spun off from St. Louis-based Peabody Energy in 2007, with approximately 43 percent of Peabody’s pension and health care liabilities, but just 11 percent of its productive assets.  Patriot also later assumed pension and health care obligations for retired union miners who had worked for Arch Coal, which had previously shed its liabilities in a similar fashion as Peabody.

In June of 2012, Patriot filed for reorganization under U.S. bankruptcy law. The company is seeking court approval to drastically reduce or eliminate health care coverage for retired miners, and to make severe cutbacks in the wages, health care, pensions and working conditions of active mine workers.

“I never worked a day for Patriot Coal,” said Shirley Inman, a retired miner whose health care benefits are threatened by Patriot’s actions in U.S. bankruptcy court. “I don’t care what the corporate name is, those executives made us a promise: We’d mine their coal, and in exchange we’d have good health care while we worked and after we retired. I kept my promise; they should keep theirs.”

“Patriot doesn’t have to go down this road,” Roberts said. “We can help Patriot solve its problems, with a solution that keeps the promises made to retired miners, and provides decent pay, benefits and working conditions to active miners.  Patriot’s problems are not rooted in competition with other coal companies, they’re rooted in not having the assets to pay Peabody’s and Arch’s bills in a coal market that is on a downswing."

The UMWA is challenging Patriot’s action in court, has undertaken a public education advertising campaign about Peabody, Patriot and Arch Coal, and has worked with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall to develop and introduce federal legislation to assist retired miners.

Those arrested during today’s protest in front of Patriot headquarters include:

·         Cecil Roberts, International President, UMWA

·         Dan Kane, International Secretary-Treasurer, UMWA

·         Father John Rausch of the Glenmary Home Missioners, director of the Catholic Committee on Appalachia;

·         Rev. Donald Prange, St. James United Church of Christ, Lovettsville, VA;

·         Rev. James Lewis, Episcopal priest (retired);

·         Ken Perdue, President, West Virginia AFL-CIO;

·         Bill Londrigan, President, Kentucky AFL-CIO;

·         Doris Crouse-Mays, President, Virginia AFL-CIO;

·         John Cox, UMWA Local 9177;

·         Ricky Lowe, UMWA Local 5958;

·         Rick Ryan, UMWA Local 2286;

·         Jody Hogge, UMWA Local 9819;

·         Shirley Inman, UMWA Local 2286;

·         Anita Wade, UMWA Local 2286;

·         Clif Tennant, UMWA Local 4047;

·         John Palmer, President, UMWA Local 1570.

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