UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts sounded “disappointment” with the situation, while alleging a Patriot walkout. “We made progress toward a workable alternative,” he said in a release. “The union agreed to savings—but that still wasn’t enough.” Patriot contested the release’s accuracy and denied leaving the talks. Company spokesmen added they only learned meetings slated for next week were canceled via the statement.
On May 29, a St. Louis federal bankruptcy judge ruled in favor of Patriot Coal officials seeking to annul union contracts, a move allowing the financially strapped company to impose steep wage and benefit concessions on current and retired miners. In her 102-page decision, Judge Kathy A. Surratt-States of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court granted Patriot’s motion to reject collective bargaining agreements with the UMWA while terminating current retiree benefits. Patriot asserted reorganization would be impossible without the cuts—a claim the union fought bitterly in court and with frequent, sometimes boisterous, public protests.
“We have offered millions in additional contract enhancements, including wage increases, healthcare improvements, life insurance and paid personal time off,” said Patriot Coal CEO Ben Hatfield. “It remains the assessment of Patriot management that agreeing to UMWA’s demands would sacrifice making the company viable.”
Roberts offered a starkly different view. “There is no end to the sacrifices our members and retirees are expected to make, even while hundreds of managers and executives are thinking how they will spend bonus money in their bank accounts,” said Roberts. “If we’re going to share the pain, we should share the gain.” UMWA represents 40% of Patriot miners.