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Nearly 2,000 UMWA members, retirees rally to keep benefits at Patriot Coal headquarters in WV

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Led by United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts, between 1,500 and 1,800 UMWA members, retirees and their families — all donning matching camouflage T-shirts imprinted with the yellow UMWA logo — marched up to the Patriot facility Monday afternoon chanting “UMWA” and “We are union.”

The collective effort came as a response to Patriot’s attempts to shed its obligations as part of the bankruptcy process in order to pave a way to close its transaction with Kentucky-based Blackhawk Mining LLC. 

“No group of people sacrificed more to keep this company alive over the last three years than working and retired UMWA members and their families,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said in a statement. “They gave up wages, benefits and more so that Patriot could continue to operate. Their thanks for that is a kick in the teeth from Patriot’s new Wall Street masters.”

And some attendees said this battle will certainly not be their last.

Shirley Hall, of Castlewood, Virginia, said she and her husband, a retired electrician who worked under the UMWA for 37 years, have had to fight for his pension and health care benefits before, and they’ll do it again.

“We’re going to fight to the very end, we don’t give up,” Hall said. “We’ll be back. This is not the end; this is only the beginning.”

Logan County, West Virginia native Greg Butcher, a 63-year-old retiree who worked for Arch Coal for 10 years before the operations were sold to Patriot, said he wasn’t just there for himself, but also for his family.

“We’re not here in this hot sun today because we like it (or) because we’re trying to be nice to them or anything,” Butcher said. “We’re trying to compromise, if nothing else.

“I want my benefits I earned that they promised me,” he added. “They lied, and now they’re trying to steal.”

Patriot has been working to restructure since it filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in May.

Just hours before the rally, the company announced its latest plan to “substantially all” of its assets and liabilities not included in the previous agreement with Blackhawk Mining LLC to an affiliate of Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund Inc. 

“The VCLF transaction just announced today is expected to provide future job opportunities for UMWA-affiliated employees at our Federal and Hobet mines,” Patriot said in a statement. “We believe that our efforts in securing both the VCLF and Blackhawk transactions represent the best possible outcome for our employees and other stakeholders. 

“Patriot expects to emerge from chapter 11 as expeditiously as possible and, as always, we are committed to operating safely and serving our customers throughout the sale process.”

 “We understand quite well that these are tough times in the coal industry, but to wipe out generations of progress so that a handful of New York bondholders can reap profits while leaving everyone else with absolutely nothing is just wrong,” he added. “We’re going to make sure Patriot understands that.”

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