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Report: Patriot Coal stoops to new low in battle against workers

Unions rally in St. Louis to protest "morally bankrupt" coal companies.

Religious leaders today called out the nation's two largest coal producers for their morally bankrupt attack on the aging, ill and disabled.

The two coal companies intentionally engaged in a corporate shell game to avoid paying for retired union miners’ guaranteed lifetime health care. As a result, thousands of former coal workers may be left with no or limited health benefits.

Religious Leaders for Coalfield Justice and InterfaithWorker Justice recently released a report that outlines the callous actions taken by the coal producers—Peabody Energy and Arch Coal—beginning in 2005. Their scheme threatens to leave some 23,000 United Mine Workers of America members and their families without their hard-earned medical insurance.

The report details how Peabody and Arch created a company that was responsible for paying the health care costs for retired employees. That company, Patriot, declared bankruptcy in 2012. A federal bankruptcy court judge will decide Patriot’s fate, and the court’s decision will determine whether the coal miners will continue to receive health care coverage.

Representatives from the two groups that published the report discussed its findings today. Rev. Ted Erickson, retired United Church of Christ Board for Homeland Ministries staff and the report’s lead author, said the war against coal miners has deepened beyond what religious leaders have seen in the last 25 years.

“Peabody and Arch have taken their battle against their workers to a new low,” he said. “This move extends their battle from the workplace to their family lives and the communities they serve.”

The report notes that the fallout from the company’s actions doesn’t just affect the retired coal workers, but also could affect health care facilities that serve many Appalachian communities where coal miners live. In addition, it could set a troubling legal precedent that would be damaging to countless workers nationwide. If Peabody and Arch are able to shed contractual responsibilities for the health and welfare of their retirees, contractual responsibilities for retirees of other corporations may also be at risk—jeopardizing the economic well-being of the American people for higher corporate profits.

Father John Rausch, executive director for Catholic Committee of Appalachia, said Peabody and Arch have stolen from their employees and it is time for the legal system to recognize it.

“People who have pledged to work hard for a company … they deserve to have that recompense,” he said. “And this deferred compensation is part of their wage stolen from them. And you can’t steal from people.”

Read the whole report here.

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