The Times West Virginian

April 29, 2014

Murray Energy dropping retiree benefits

Coverage ends Dec. 31 for former CONSOL workers

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — At the end of the year, Murray Energy Corp. will stop offering benefits to retirees of CONSOL Energy Inc.

A certified letter dated April 8, 2014, from Murray Energy about salary retiree benefits was brought to the attention of the Times West Virginian by a local couple who wished to remain anonymous.

The document states that Murray Energy previously informed retirees that as of March 31, 2014, they would no longer be eligible for CONSOL Energy’s Salaried Retiree Medical Plan. In addition to retiree medical, the benefits consisted of Health Reimbursement Accounts and salary life insurance. Murray Energy notified the affected individuals that it would take over the benefit coverage starting April 2 of this year and mail out new identification cards.

Murray Energy, which is based in St. Clairsville, Ohio, announced its plans to buy Consolidation Coal Co.’s stock from CONSOL Energy in October 2013. The transaction involved West Virginia’s McElroy, Shoemaker, Blacksville, Loveridge and Robinson Run facilities, according to an Oct. 28 press release from Murray Energy.

The letter sent earlier this month says, “Please be advised that Murray Energy does not provide salary retiree benefit coverage for its retirees. When Murray Energy purchased Consolidation Coal Co., it agreed to provide salary retiree benefits at a level substantially similar to that provided by CONSOL for those retirees already receiving such retiree benefits, but only for a period of at least one year from the closing date of Dec. 5, 2013.”

This December, that period of one year will come to an end.

The document continues, “CONSOL and Murray Energy reserved the right to amend or terminate your retiree benefits and coverage in applicable plan documents and summary plan descriptions.”

The letter also tells recipients about RightOpt, an independent advisory service and private exchange that can assist retirees in making choices about future health insurance coverage.

In a statement dated April 16, Murray Energy provides confirmation of the future termination of former salaried employees’ medical coverage, and says this is consistent with the company’s “historical practice.”

The release provides the following explanation: “Murray Energy’s inability to provide these benefits is, in part, due to the destruction of the coal industry, including our markets, by the Obama Administration and its appointees and supporters, who have eliminated the livelihoods of thousands of coal miners, and their families, by the forced closing of 392 coal-fired electric power plants in America, now and in the immediate future. Due to these actions and devastated coal markets, Murray Energy is unable to support these benefits.”

Murray Energy states that it wanted to give retirees the chance to make decisions related to their benefits, and has offered information about other options. The company says that Medicare can cover more than 80 percent of the benefits that retirees will lose, and that “these former Consolidation Coal retirees have good pension benefits.”

When contacted by the Times West Virginian, a spokesperson said Murray Energy was not granting interviews on the matter.

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