Coal miners from southern Illinois and across the country are again rallying in St. Louis to protest Peabody Energy.
Tuesday's rally is the third in front of Peabody’s corporate headquarters. The UMWA says Peabody is ignoring its pension and health care responsibilities for some 20-thousand retired coal miners in Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. The union claims Peabody off-load more than a half-billion dollars of its pension and health care responsibilities in 2007 to it’s now bankrupt subsidiary Patriot Coal.
Most of the miners facing the possible loss of their retirement and health benefits never worked directly for Patriot. One of those is James Jones. Jones is retired and disabled from Peabody’s Eagle 2 Mine in Shawneetown. His benefits are among those tied up in Patriot’s bankruptcy proceedings. Jones says he and several other retired miners in the southern Illinois area hate to lose what they worked so hard for to get. Patriot declared bankruptcy last summer. Patriot officials say they cannot honor the pension obligations and are seeking relief of those debts in court.
About 1,000 people participated in Tuesday's rally. UMWA miners attended from as far as away as West Virginia and Alabama. St Louis police arrested Jones and others Tuesday morning as they took part in a protest in front of Peabody’s corporate headquarters. Jones says he hopes the union’s action and public opinion will help them keep their benefits. Jones lives south of Harrisburg with his wife who is also on retirement disability.
Peabody Energy, in a written release, says they have honored their responsibilities. The Peabody statement also says Patriot was highly successful following its launch more than five years ago. Peabody says the UMWA retirees in question all worked for companies that are part of Patriot Coal, and Patriot's launch only occurred after the UMWA and its leadership specifically signed off on the retiree benefit payment structure with which Patriot started as an independent company. The Peabody statement also says that in 2011, Patriot and the UMWA renegotiated a collective bargaining agreement and chose not to change the benefits structure.