UMWA plans huge Patriot rally in W.Va. on Monday
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.
"But these corporate elites don't understand that Americans are tired of seeing the 1 percent line their pockets while the rest of us get kicked in the teeth," he said.
Peabody denies the union's claims, saying it's the victim of "unforeseen events" including the global financial crisis, new environmental regulations and a reduction in metallurgical coal prices.
The Charleston Police Department is advising residents and commuters of potential traffic congestion Monday morning in the hours leading up to and after the rally.
According to the UMWA, buses will begin arriving at the Civic Center at 8:30 a.m. to drop off individuals participating in the rally.
The rally begins at 10 a.m. at the Civic Center and will last until 11:30 a.m., when members will begin the march to Laidley Tower. The second portion of the rally at Laidley Tower is expected to begin at 12:15 p.m.
Officers with the Charleston Police Department will close off streets to accommodate the march and rally.
Officers plan to close Clendenin Street between Quarrier and Lee streets beginning at 11 a.m. Remaining streets will be closed off once the march begins at approximately 11:30 a.m.
According to Charleston Police, union members will march down Clendenin Street to Virginia Street, then turn east on Virginia Street and proceed to Court Street until they arrive at Laidley Tower.
Police advise that traffic on side streets, Virginia and Lee streets will be stopped long enough to allow marchers to pass and be re-opened as soon as possible.
Court Street between Lee and Washington Streets in front of Laidley Tower will be closed until the rally ends at about 1 p.m.
After the rally, attendees will walk back on Washington Street to Reynolds Street and across Lee Street to the rear lot of the Civic Center to return to their vehicles. Police plan to stop traffic on those portions of the road to accommodate the attendees.