UMW, Patriot Coal reach settlement in bankruptcy case
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The United Mine Workers of America announced Monday it has reached a settlement with bankrupt Patriot Coal concerning the union's collective bargaining and health care agreements with the company.
The new agreement will also allow for the continuance of retiree health benefits, the union said. UMW officials and numerous politicians had decried Patriot's decision to alter its retiree benefits plan, which the company said was essential for its future survival.
The union said the new terms and conditions of employment "makes significant improvements" compared to the terms handed down by federal Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States, who is overseeing the Patriot Coal bankruptcy case.
Surratt-States' decision allowed Patriot to move forward with significant benefits cuts. It was handed down May 29, and went into effect July 1.
UMW International President Cecil Roberts said union and company officials negotiated several weeks to come up with a better settlement than the one approved by Surratt-States.
"After several weeks of nearly around-the-clock negotiations, I believe we have reached something that can be taken to the membership for ratification," Roberts said.
"We have been able to restore, or at least improve upon, many of the most drastic changes that the Judge ordered, including in the area of wages, health care benefits, paid time off, pensions, and more," he said.
"In addition, we have negotiated a mechanism that will allow retiree health care benefits to continue," Roberts said.
The union is not releasing details of the settlement publicly until its members have had a chance to vote on the potential agreement. The vote is scheduled for Friday.
About 1,800 active or laid-off union members in West Virginia and Kentucky will be eligible to vote.
Patriot said in its press release it will file a motion with the Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis seeking authorization to enter into this agreement.
Bennett K. Hatfield, president and chief executive officer at Patriot Coal, said in a press release the agreement "represents the successful conclusion of a difficult negotiation."
"Both parties want to preserve jobs and protect healthcare benefits for retirees by keeping Patriot on track for reorganization - and not liquidation," Hatfield said. "We appreciate the cooperation of the UMWA leadership and the sacrifices of all of our employees and retirees as we work to restore Patriot to viability."
In West Virginia, lawmakers in both parties have criticized Patriot's plan to reduce retiree benefits. Members of the state's congressional delegation have sponsored bills to address the situation, though none have passed Congress.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4836.