On Tuesday, 15 people were arrested in front of Peabody Energy headquarters as members of the UMWA and supporters protested the company’s continued refusal to pay for health care benefits promised to retired miners, their widows and dependents. The arrests followed a spirited march and rally during which more than 5,000 protestors briefly blocked traffic in downtown St. Louis, surrounding the Peabody Energy building at 7th and Market streets.
“Our members who are at risk of losing the retiree health care benefits Peabody and Arch promised them clearly earned those benefits,” said UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts. “We will continue to fight for them in every possible venue until those benefits are secure.”
Just before the rally, Peabody announced that the UMWA had rejected an offer to settle all claims with the UMWA, payable over 15 years, which could have provided 3,100 Patriot Coal retirees with lifetime health care benefits comparable to those of Peabody’s active corporate employees.
Senior Vice President of Global Investor and Corporate Relations Vic Svec said the offer could have funded the newly established Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association that will provide health care benefits to retirees in the wake of Patriot’s bankruptcy. Patriot was a Peabody spinoff created in 2007; union disputes over benefits have raged since.
“UMWA President Cecil Roberts claims to be concerned about his members,” said Svec. “So why did he not accept a settlement amount large enough to provide 3,100 retirees with lifetime healthcare benefits comparable with those of Peabody’s active corporate employees?”
“The UMWA retirees traveling to St. Louis to rally for healthcare benefits have a right to know a good faith settlement was on the table and that union leadership rejected it,” he added.
Since Patriot’s launch, Peabody has funded Patriot’s health are obligations for some 3,100 retirees under contractual agreement. The mid-August offer was to settle all claims with the UMWA and the union would not accept these terms, according to Peabody, despite the fact that Peabody’s contractual obligation, at any level, has been relieved by new agreements between Patriot Coal and the UMWA.