Patriot has also filed a suit against Peabody Energy seeking confirmation from Peabody officials that they will continue to fund retirees’ benefits despite the latter’s previous assurances; Patriot officials maintain benefits for 3,000 people are in danger. Despite “regret,” said Patriot officials, these moves will save “more than 4,000 jobs.”
Union officials, however, offered a strident rebuke. The moves are “totally unacceptable, unnecessary and put thousands of retired coal miners, their dependents or their widows on the path to financial ruin, worsening health conditions or even death,” said UMWA President Cecil Roberts.
Similar to many coal operators reeling from hostile Washington regulations and competition from natural gas, Patriot has been left out in the cold; indeed, many other coal companies have followed its initial July 2012 bankruptcy filing. Without the relief, “all these jobs will be lost and it will no longer be possible to provide healthcare for more than 23,000 employees, retirees and their dependents,” company officials added.
“Our labor and retiree benefit costs cannot be sustained,” said Patriot CEO Ben Hatfield, alluding to financial discrepancies between 1,600 union and 1,300 non-union workers. “All of our employees and retirees are being asked to make sacrifices to help Patriot emerge from bankruptcy—these include reductions in compensation and benefits for salaried, union and non-union employees.”
Patriot also seeks amendments for UMWA-related retiree healthcare liabilities totaling $1.6 billion. Proposals include transitioning UMWA healthcare to the trust, allowing retirees long-term benefits; the voluntary trust could be funded, in part, by unsecured claims of a stake in the reorganized company, suggested officials.
Other funding sources potentially include profit-sharing agreements reaching $300 million and cash contributions of $15 million. Other approaches encompass allowing the company to pay out benefits until July—time enough for fund establishment. In addition, the trust would be administered by the UMWA or the UMWA Health and Retirement Funds.
This would allow Patriot to continue extending coverage for its full workforce and eligible families, and the more than 2,300 people receiving care via 1992’s Coal Act. Last year, Patriot spent $14 million on liabilities related to the legislation, also known as the Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act.