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July 9, 2013

Thousands attend UMW rally in Fairmont

FAIRMONT — The United Mine Workers of America and its supporters are committed to standing up for justice and fighting for what’s right, UMW International President Cecil Roberts said.

More than 5,000 people came together in Fairmont on Tuesday for the UMW’s “Fairness at Patriot” rally. More than 25 buses came from across the country, including West Virginia, Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, to Fairmont State University’s football practice field for the event. Workers from many other trade unions also attended to show their support.

Participants didn’t let the weather keep them away or dampen their spirits. The crowd came equipped with ponchos, umbrellas and lawn chairs, and wore their UMW gear proudly. They held up signs in the rain saying “Peabody’s Soul — Black as Coal,” “Our Blood is on Your Hands,” “Peabody Created Patriot to Fail” and “Peabody Stole from its Workers.”

The Fairmont event was in support of the retired miners and their families who are losing their health care and active miners who are seeing cuts in wages and benefits with Patriot Coal Corp.’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which was filed July 9, 2012.

Patriot went public through a spinoff from Peabody Energy in October 2007. Then in July 2008, the corporation acquired Magnum Coal Co., which formerly gained assets and liabilities from Arch Coal. With the spinoff from Peabody and purchase of Magnum, Patriot took on the responsibility of providing benefits to some of Peabody and Arch’s former employees and retirees.

The UMW is protesting Peabody and Arch’s actions, which the union says caused Patriot to unavoidably go into bankruptcy.

The union took its campaign to Charleston in April and has also held events in Indiana, Kentucky, St. Louis, Mo., and other locations across the country. The UMW will gather in St. Louis at the end the month for another rally.

In Fairmont, 30 designated individuals, including Roberts, UMW District 31 International Vice President Mike Caputo and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, were arrested at the end of the rally in an act of civil disobedience. Roberts said this is the most people who have been arrested at any time for this effort.

Before this action took place, Roberts asked all the ministers and deacons in the crowd to come forward to the stage to send up a prayer of support. Then the 30 people left the football practice field and peacefully sat down together on the street. Each awaited his turn to be handcuffed and taken away by police, as “Amazing Grace” played over the speakers in the background and the crowd cheered in support of their UMW brothers and sisters.

“This is unbelievable,” Roberts said during the rally. “This is the greatest gathering of union supporters and activists in the United States of America.”

He said the United States is the greatest country on Earth because of the working class, not because of the CEOs, millionaires and boards of directors of companies. The UMW’s fight focuses on the liars — Peabody and Arch — who told the lies, he told the crowd.

“The fight won’t be over in the morning,” he said. “I’m 100 percent committed to this fight. We were promised health care, and we will get our health care.”

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.

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