A federal bankruptcy judge granted a motion Wednesday allowing St. Louis-based Patriot Coal to make major changes to retirees’ health benefits.
Patriot estimated it had more than $1.6 billion in health liabilities for some 23,000 retired miners and their families.
The company said it could not emerge from bankruptcy with those obligations and is instead offering the United Mine Workers of America a 35 percent stake in a new company, as well as a healthcare trust fund for retirees.
United Mine Workers of America spokesman Phil Smith says there has to be a better alternative.
"We believe that this is putting thousands of people at risk and we don’t believe it was necessary to do that to help Patriot come out of this bankruptcy," Smith said.
The UMWA intends to appeal the ruling.
In a statement Patriot CEO Bennett Hatfield said the ruling was a major step forward and will allow the company to preserve 4,000 jobs.