Created in 2007 after spinning off from Peabody and Arch, roughly 10,000 union members saw their benefits transferred over to the new Patriot Coal Co. While many of these workers actually mined coal for the new company, many, already retired, simply had their benefits shifted to it. Now the UMWA fears Patriot will try to take advantage of increasingly lax corporate bankruptcy laws that allow failed companies to shed retiree health care and pensions. According to Reuters, in court papers related to its bankruptcy filing, Patriot said its current retiree obligations are untenable. With Patriot now in bankruptcy, the union is determined to ensure the benefits by going after Peabody and Arch.
In an interview with Reuters, Arthur Traynor, a UMWA lawyer, said the goal “is not to get money out of Patriot. We’re going to go back and talk to the people who are responsible, who made these gentlemen the promise of health care, and that’s Peabody and Arch. Peabody and Arch, apparently, don’t want to pay that,” he said.
A spokesman for Peabody said that Patriot was a “completely viable” company when it was spun off and that its downfall resulted from other forces. “Patriot’s decisions to make significant changes in its capital structure (and) decreased demand for U.S. coal due to sharp declines in natural gas prices” contributed to Patriot’s decline, said spokesman Vic Svec.
Recently, Svec said that a Peabody subsidiary still pays about $600 million in Patriot retiree health care obligations that it retained at the time of the spinoff.