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Miners Protest In St. Louis Over Effects Of Patriot Coal Bankruptcy

Hundreds of miners from across the country protested outside of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy on Tuesday.

The miners are accusing Peabody of orchestrating a bankruptcy in order to skip out on pension and healthcare benefits owed to some 10,000 retirees and their dependents.

At the heart of the dispute is Patriot Coal Corp., which was created by Peabody as a stand-alone company in 2007.  In creating Patriot, Peabody also transferred a hefty chunk of Peabody’s outstanding pension obligations onto Patriot’s books.

To compound the matter, in 2008 Patriot went on to acquire another company—Magnum Coal, at the time a subsidiary of Creve Coeur-based Arch Coal

For the first few years Patriot was profitable, but not for long.  The company is now in the midst of filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is expected to ask a federal judge to release it from some of these outstanding pension and healthcare burdens.

A judge moved Patriot's case to St. Louis last November. An $802 million financing package is letting it continue operating while it restructures.

Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America, says the whole deal was designed to end up in bankruptcy court.

“So now Patriot is paying the obligations of two of the largest coal companies in the world and people who never worked for Patriot are asking me…how can Patriot going into bankruptcy have anything to do with my healthcare?” says Roberts.

Most of the retired miners in question never worked for Patriot Coal, people like Orlis Milton from Greenville, Ky.

“All we want is what’s coming to us on the retirement and medical care,” says Milton.  “We don’t want anything extra, but we worked hard and we paid into those pensions, and we rely on that coverage in our retirement.”

Peabody spokesman Vic Svec said the matter is between the union, Patriot Coal, and a judge—not the court of public opinion.

“This is a matter really, that is appropriately decided in the bankruptcy court,” Svec says. “It’s between the UMWA and Patriot Coal.  Peabody has lived up to its obligations and we will abide by the court’s decision.”

Many of the retirees in question live in the states of West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky.

The St. Louis Police Department deployed approximately 75 officers to monitor the protest and stand outside of the Eagleton Courthouse as well as Peabody’s headquarters on Kiener Plaza.

Ten members of the UMWA leadership protested by sitting in 7th St. at which point they were arrested without protest.

Adam also appeared on St. Louis on the Air earlier today, calling in live from the protest. Below is the audio of that appearance.

Follow Adam Allington on Twitter: @aallington

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