This is not just the UMWA's fight
By BERRY CRAIG
The Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council has endorsed a United Mine Workers of America-sponsored resolution declaring that “as community members and leaders, we believe that Peabody, Arch and Patriot Coal should not be using the bankruptcy process to shed themselves of providing health care and pension obligations to coal miners who put their lives and health at risk every day working for Peabody, Arch and Patriot Coal.”
The endorsement was unanimous. "This is not just the UMWA's fight," said Jeff Wiggins, president of the council and Steelworkers Local 9447. "What's happening to the miners could happen to all of us. Companies all over the country are going after our pensions. We're all in the same boat."
UMWA members, active and retired, plus their families and friends have been holding large protest rallies in St. Louis and Charleston, W.Va.
The next rallies are set for April 16 and 29 in St. Louis, where Peabody is headquartered and where the company is pleading its case in federal bankruptcy court.
Steve Earle of Greenville, Ky., a UMWA international vice president, presented the resolution to the area council, which represents AFL-CIO affiliated unions in Kentucky's 13 westernmost counties.
“Yesterday, one of our retirees tried to commit suicide over what Patriot is trying to do to him and his family,” Earle said. “It is not known if he will live.”
Patriot was spun off from Peabody in 2007. The company claims its retiree health care obligations are “unsustainable," according to the UMWA. “Ninety percent of the retirees Patriot is responsible for never worked for Patriot, but worked for Peabody and Arch Coal instead.”
Peabody and Arch are the largest coal companies in the nation.
The UMWA resolution also says “Peabody, Arch and Patriot Coal appear willing to stand by and do nothing as these brave miners and their spouses suffer and die from their work-caused illnesses and injuries without the health care these companies promised them.”
The resolution urges “Peabody, Arch and Patriot Coal to stand by their promises of lifetime health care and providing pension obligations they committed to with the United Mine Workers of America.”
Supporters of the UMWA can also sign an online petition at http://www.fairnessatpatriot.org/take-action/sign-the-petition/.
The UMWA “workers earned these promised benefits negotiated over a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice,” the resolution also says. “The gains that have been made over the last sixty years for working miners as a result of collective bargaining are now being threatened by Patriot Coal.
“Patriot Coal is seeking to strip away these gains through the bankruptcy proceeding and it is morally wrong to do so to these workers who gave their sweat and blood to this company. Now these retirees are afflicted with illnesses and injuries caused by their hard work in the mines over many years. Far too many have contacted black lung, silicosis, cancers and crippling injuries that prevent them from enjoying their golden years.”
More information about the UMWA and the upcoming St. Louis rallies is available from Earle by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached by phone at (270) 543-6565.
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