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.