The Times West Virginian

Headline News

March 18, 2013

Roberts blasts Patriot Coal bankruptcy move

ST. LOUIS — The top official with a national miners’ union on Monday called bankrupt Patriot Coal Corp.’s bid to cut retiree health care immoral, as it seeks millions of dollars for executive bonuses and faces mounting payouts of $16 million in legal fees and expenses.

“Patriot has thousand-dollar-an-hour lawyers and two-dollar-an-hour morals,” United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts told reporters, four days after St. Louis-based Patriot filed a request in bankruptcy court to modify its collective bargaining agreements with the union.

“We think we’re standing on righteous ground here, and we’re going to fight this fight,” Roberts said.

In pursuing Chapter 11 bankruptcy last July, Patriot cited exceptionally soft coal markets, rising costs and “unsustainable legacy liabilities” tied to its 2007 spinoff from St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp. Patriot said coal markets have only worsened since then, contributing to what the company now says are crushing labor and retirement benefit expenses requiring “critical financial relief in a timeframe that avoids severe business disruption.”

Patriot, claiming its retiree health liability has ballooned to $1.6 billion, last week proposed creating a trust with a maximum of $300 million from future profit-sharing to fund some level of those benefits, with Patriot making an initial contribution of $15 million.

Patriot CEO Bennett Hatfield said the moves are “necessary for the survival of Patriot and the preservation of more than 4,000 jobs.” Without such relief, he argued, Patriot no longer could provide health care to 10,000 retired miners and 13,000 dependents.

A hearing is scheduled for April 10.

While decrying $7 million in executive bonuses that Patriot wants a bankruptcy court to approve, Roberts warned Thursday that potentially sweeping health care cuts could be ruinous to tens of thousands of retirees and their survivors that he said could be forced to sell their homes or drain their savings to pay for medical care.

“How in the world can you pass on to someone else the promise you made?” Roberts said.

A message left Monday with Patriot for comment wasn’t immediately returned.

When it spun off Patriot, Peabody agreed to pay health care costs for more than 3,000 UMW retirees who were employed by Peabody entities that were transferred to Patriot.

Patriot last week sued Peabody, saying it wants to ensure that Peabody doesn’t try to use Patriot’s bankruptcy “to escape Peabody’s own health care obligations to certain retirees.”

Peabody fired back, saying in a statement that its contract with Patriot states Peabody will fund a portion of Patriot’s retiree health care expenses for specified retirees — and that “we have been providing funds under this contract since the spinoff.”

“Patriot is taking the untenable position that our payments should continue in full in the future even if Patriot’s expenses are reduced,” Peabody’s statement read. “Such a claim is not only unreasonable but counter to the fundamental basis of the language in the contract. These are Patriot’s obligations and, to the extent they are reduced, we will meet our agreement with Patriot to fund the new lower levels.”

The union previously filed suit against Peabody and Arch Coal in West Virginia, claiming they set up Patriot to fail so pension and health care benefits could be shed. After the 2007 spinoff, Patriot acquired mines that Arch Coal — another St. Louis-based coal producer — had spun off into Magnum Coal.

Union leaders have said the benefit cuts would affect retired miners and dependents mostly in West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Supreme Court: Michigan affirmative action ban OK

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • Court critical of law punishing campaign lies

    The Supreme Court appears to be highly skeptical of laws that try to police false statements during political campaigns, raising doubts about the viability of such laws in more than 15 states.

    April 23, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia has ‘days, not weeks’ to follow by an international accord for Ukraine

    Russia has “days, not weeks” to abide by an international accord aimed at stemming the crisis in Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat in Kiev warned Monday as Vice President Joe Biden launched a high-profile show of support for the pro-Western Ukrainian government. Russia in turn accused authorities in Kiev of flagrantly violating the pact and declared their actions would not stand.

    April 22, 2014

  • U.S. weighing military exercises

    The United States is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, a Western official said Saturday. The exercises would follow Russia’s buildup of forces near its border with Ukraine and its annexation last month of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

    April 21, 2014

  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • Governor: Closing Boston amid bomber hunt ‘tough’

    Several days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Gov. Deval Patrick received a call in the pre-dawn hours from a top aide telling him that police officers outside the city had just engaged in a ferocious gun battle with the two men suspected of setting the bombs and that one was dead and the other had fled.

    April 20, 2014

  • Everest avalanche reminder of risks Sherpas face

    The rescuers moved quickly, just minutes after the first block of ice tore loose from Mount Everest and started an avalanche that roared down the mountain, ripping through teams of guides hauling gear.
    But they couldn’t get there quickly enough.

    April 20, 2014

  • Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 19, 2014

  • Everest avalanche kills at least 12

    An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving four missing in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak. Several more were injured.

    April 19, 2014

  • Diplomacy doesn’t move insurgents in Ukraine

    Pro-Russian insurgents defiantly refused Friday to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings in eastern Ukraine, despite a diplomatic accord reached in Geneva and overtures from the government in Kiev.

    April 19, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads