According to the Register-Herald Reporter, Judge Kevin Heunnekens of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Virginia, gave his authorization May 11 to the company’s request to terminate its collective bargaining deals with the union, which Alpha said will help it to save about $60 million.
The decision to end the contract, which also reportedly included health benefits, impacts about 3,000 current and retired Alpha employees (600 and 2,600, respectively). In March, when the company first entered its request, it told the court that its obligations in 2015 for health care benefits for those under the contract totaled $53 million, or 30% more than its non-union workers.
Additionally, it also reported at the time that it spent $872 million during the same period for retiree health care obligations.
The union has fought back against the request, particularly in light of Alpha’s decision to pay out $12 million in bonus compensation to its executives as it wades through its Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“[The] ruling by Judge…Huennekens stripping away our collective bargaining agreement with Alpha Natural Resources and wiping away the company’s obligation for retiree benefits came as no surprise,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts said. “We are trying to reach an agreement with the company to resolve this issue, but if we are unable to do that we will have to examine our options. Alpha can attempt to impose whatever terms and conditions at its operations it may desire. That doesn’t mean our members will agree to work under them.”
In related news, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) entered an objection to the bankruptcy court this week formally stating that the state objects to the sale of Alpha’s assets.
The agency claims, according to the Reporter, that if its sale is approved, the state could be left with massive reclamation liabilities. By DEP estimates, Alpha’s reclamation and water treatment responsibilities total about $1 billion.