UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts addressed the union leaders, updating them on the status of the bankruptcy filing and explaining what the process will likely be moving forward. Roberts pledged that “the UMWA will bring every resource to bear on behalf of our membership as this process unfolds.”
According to UMWA spokesman Phil Smith, Patriot is responsible for a variety of benefits to over 2,000 active workers and over 10,600 retirees. “When you factor in dependents, there are some 22,000 people who are affected by this bankruptcy spread throughout West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana. Many are former Arch Magnum and Peabody employees. Let’s face it, Peabody has been trying to get out from under these obligations for some time,” said Smith.
On July 9, St. Louis-based Patriot filed for bankruptcy, seeking court permission to reorganize itself to address mounting financial problems. The company listed $3.57 billion in assets and $3.07 billion in debt. In the company’s bankruptcy filings, chief Patriot CFO Mark Schroeder noted that the company is responsible for benefits to more than three times the number of retirees as Patriot currently employs as active miners.
Unlike a similar bankruptcy situation with the now defunct Addington-run Horizon Natural Resources, Patriot has entered Chapter 11 proceedings and is not shutting down operations like heavily unionized Horizon did when it entered Chapter 7 proceedings. However, in its bankruptcy filings, Patriot has complained of “substantial and unsustainable legacy costs,” which company officials identified primarily as health-care benefits and pension payments.
The UMWA has also filed a motion to transfer the case from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York, where Patriot filed it, to the Southern District of West Virginia. Union lawyers noted that Patriot’s bankruptcy filing in New York is based at least in part on two New York-based subsidiaries, both of which were created only in June.
“Nobody mines coal in New York,” the union’s lawyers said in court papers. “Significant issues in this case — whether mines are shut, whether employee wages and benefits are cut — will all directly affect the West Virginia economy while having no such effect in New York.”
“The only way you can file a bankruptcy case in New York, is if you have an entity there. They didn’t even have one there until June–just a few weeks before they filed for bankruptcy. New York is where their bankers, creditors and lawyers are—though over 20% of their creditors are actually in West Virginia,” said Smith.