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An emotional effort to sway public opinion

THE United Mine Workers backed a presidential candidate who has since waged war on the industry its working members and retirees depend on for pay, health and pension benefits.

On Tuesday, the UMW and its political allies staged a rally in Charleston to castigate a company, Patriot Coal, that has been weakened in part by the president who has waged that war on coal.

The company sought protection from creditors in bankruptcy court while it tries to reorganize and continue to operate. As part of that effort, Patriot, which has sought concessions from creditors, seeks concessions from the UMW as well.

Patriot has about $1.6 billion in liabilities for retiree health care. It seeks to modify - not end - its agreements with the UMW so it can continue to operate and keep 4,000 people working.

Monday's demonstration was a very emotional event - part solidarity, part partisan political statement - aimed at influencing the court of public opinion. The matter actually will be settled in bankruptcy court.

It is understandably an emotional matter. The outcome of the case will affect the lives of active and retired UMW members, and perhaps, the union itself.

But what heights of hyperbole and histrionics.

Former UMW President Rich Trumka, now president of the AFL-CIO, blasted the whole coal industry.

"You can't be a 'Friend of Coal' unless you're a friend of coal miners," he said. "You want to call yourself a friend of coal, then get off your damn butt and stand with us."

Sen. Joe Manchin topped him with "Where I come from, we have a saying: You can't shine crap - and this is crap. You can't make it look good, you can't make it smell good, and you sure as hell can't make it taste good."

Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, who has sponsored legislation pertaining to retiree benefits, bashed Republicans: "It will be an uphill battle, especially in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives," he said.

The UMW contends Peabody spun off its union mines to Patriot to shed its benefit obligation, and that Pa-triot was set up to fail. Peabody and Patriot deny that.

Peabody contends it has discharged its obligations. Patriot thinks otherwise.

It's a complex high-stakes matter for miners, retirees, companies, bondholders and communities.

It will take a court to sort it all out, but the reality is that nobody benefits if wealth creation ends.


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