The United Mine Workers of America is planning to bring at least 50 buses and some 5,000 people to West Virginia’s capital next week to protest outside the state offices of bankrupt Patriot Coal Corp.
The union has staged multiple protests in St. Louis, resulting in a few dozen arrests, and is running an ad campaign aimed at pressuring Patriot to abandon plans for shedding a $1.6 billion liability for pensions and health care benefits.
Some 23,000 retired miners and their families would be affected by that plan.
Miners from southern West Virginia will drive to the Civic Center for a rally there Monday morning, UMW spokesman Phil Smith said. The participants will then march through downtown Charleston to Laidley Tower.
Participants are coming from six other states as well — Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.
Besides UMW President Cecil Roberts, the featured speakers are likely to include U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, Rep. Nick Rahall and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
Earlier this week, the West Virginia House of Delegates joined U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and others calling for St. Louis-based Patriot to honor its pension and benefit commitments.
Patriot, which filed for bankruptcy in July 2012, said earlier this month that it wants to modify its collective bargaining agreement and create a trust fund for retiree health care benefits. Patriot contends the move is needed to save 4,000 existing jobs.
Union leaders say Peabody Energy and Arch Coal spun off assets and set up Patriot to fail in a deliberate plan to end benefit obligations to union retirees.
Peabody denies that, saying it’s the victim of “unforeseen events” including the global financial crisis, new environmental regulations and a reduction in metallurgical coal prices.