CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The United Mine Workers of America is planning to bring at least 50 buses and about 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.
About 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, UMWA 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.
"We could not be more proud of the support we've received from all over the country since this fight began," UMWA president Cecil Roberts said in a statement.
"April 1st will be a great day for miners and our supporters in Charleston -- and a real warning to corporate executives who think they can take advantage of working people without any consequences," Roberts said.
Besides Roberts, the featured speakers are likely to include U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, both D-W.Va., Secretary of State Natalie Tennant 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.
"The executives at Peabody, Arch and Patriot thought they could pull a fast one by setting up companies that were designed to fail, declaring bankruptcy, all so they could evade their health care responsibilities to retired miners while slashing the wages and benefits of active workers," Roberts said.