Some 1,000 miners — joined by delegations from the United Steelworkers, UNITE HERE and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists — marched to Memorial Park across from Peabody World Headquarters, chanting “We are union” and “U-M-W-A.”
As they arrived at the park, UMWA members planted white crosses — 1,000 of them — signifying miners who have died in the mines, or who stand to die if Patriot is successful in dumping its retiree health care.
In 2007 Peabody Energy spun off its union mines into Patriot Coal. Filing for bankruptcy in July 2012, Patriot Coal is using the courts to eliminate pensions and health benefits for retired miners and rip up the union contract.
“If we let them get away with this, they will take everything you have. We’re not going to let it happen,” Dan Kane, UMWA international secretary-treasurer, told the crowd.
The next rally will take place in St. Louis April 29. Mine workers from Australia, where Peabody owns 11 mines, will join the solidarity action, Kane said. That day Patriot will present a motion at a bankruptcy hearing here to scrap collective bargaining agreements and “modify” retiree benefits.
The April 16 action, held during a downpour, included remarks by Bill Lucy from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Timothy Drea, Illinois AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer.
Cecil Roberts, UMWA international president, concluded the rally by introducing the 14 people who would be arrested that day. At each rally, the UMWA has organized a civil disobedience action by sitting in the street across from Peabody or Patriot offices.
Jim Householder, a retired UMWA member from Kentucky, told the Militant that four union members go to St. Louis every week to organize daily informational picketing outside Peabody headquarters. “This is not just a fight against Peabody or Patriot, but for people in the U.S. who work for any company or the state and federal government,” he said.
According to the April 12 Wall Street Journal, Patriot has offered the UMWA a 35 percent stake in the company and a six-month extension of retirees’ health coverage in exchange for accepting its moves. The proposal also seeks work rule changes and other concessions from union workers and retirees.
“Unfortunately, Patriot simply does not have the financial resources to support its current benefit levels,” the company said in the revised proposal.
Patriot owns one mine in northern West Virginia, eight in southern West Virginia and two in western Kentucky. It employs 4,100 people with more than 1,600 represented by the UMWA and 2,500 nonunion.
“When we went back to work in 2003, the mine was still Peabody and then became Patriot,” Terry Miller, president of Local 1793 at a Patriot-owned mine in Kentucky, told the Militant. “We knew what was going on. Peabody dumped all their union mines into Patriot and then Patriot went bankrupt. We need to show solidarity and stick together and stay strong and we will get through this.”
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