Workers rally at annual Labor Day event, show support for Patriot retirees
RACINE, W.Va. — Protection for Patriot Coal retirees was the prevailing topic at the United Mine Workers' annual Labor Day rally Sunday at John Slack Park in Racine.
"Everybody is fighting this fight," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told the crowd.
Now in bankruptcy court, Patriot Coal was created in 2007 as a spin-off of Peabody Coal. While Patriot took only 11 percent of Peabody's assets, it took 42 percent of its liabilities. Patriot later acquired Magnum Coal, a spin-off of Arch Coal.
Union leaders and politicians have said Patriot was set up for failure, in part to alleviate liabilities of Peabody and Arch.
"This Patriot Coal deal isn't Patriot — it's Peabody," Manchin said.
As Patriot's bankruptcy case is heard in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, union leaders and Patriot representatives have made progress in negotiations, including union approval of a new labor contract in August. However, other provisions, like retiree benefits, remain unresolved.
"It's unfair, it's unjust, it's immoral," Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said of the situation.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said the Patriot situation made her "upset," "frustrated" and "appalled."
"I feel like it's a slap in the face," she said.
Tennant said she would support the union in its efforts with Patriot.
"Now, all we're asking for is promises kept," she said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin also mentioned his administration's efforts to work with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to create policy that wouldn't hurt coal jobs in West Virginia.
"We're not afraid of change," Tomblin said, noting that he has seen environmental improvements relating to coal during his lifetime.
Tomblin said he was encouraged by a meeting with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in Washington, D.C., this summer. The EPA's previous head, Lisa Jackson, refused to meet with West Virginia representatives, he said.
"We have got to have a national energy policy, and coal has to be part of it," Tomblin said.
Manchin also discussed possible U.S. action in Syria at the rally, and said he wanted to hear what rally attendees thought of the subject. National lawmakers are now discussing intervention after President Barack Obama said he would seek their approval.
"I haven't found anyone in support of us going over," Manchin said before walking around to meet constituents.
In the past, Manchin has generally been against foreign intervention.
"We can't change the world, and we can't police the world," he said at the rally.
In addition to state political leaders, labor leaders spoke at the rally, including Communication Workers of America Representative Elaine Harris, West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Purdue and UMWA District 17 Vice President Joe Carter.
Boone County Commissioner Eddie Hendricks also spoke at the rally.
This was the 75th year the rally has been held by the UMWA, though the rally itself hasn't always been in Racine.
"Anything that's lasted 75 years is significant," Carter told the Daily Mail. "It's a day of recognition of the working men and women of this state."
UMW President Cecil Roberts did not attend this year. Instead, Roberts was the grand marshal of the Labor Day parade in Paducah, Ky.
Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.