WASHINGTON - A bill introduced in the House of Representatives will protect the health benefits and pensions for the retirees of the Patriot Coal Co., lawmakers said.
Patriot Coal and its bankruptcy proceedings are at the center of a controversy where the United Mine Workers of America claim Peabody Energy and Arch Coal established Patriot in a plan to discontinue obligations to union retirees. The union said nearly all the retirees impacted worked for Peabody or Arch, not Patriot.
The company has denied the claim and said the bankruptcy is because of a global financial crisis, government regulations and a drop in metallurgical coal prices.
The Coal Mine Health Care and Pension Protection Act of 2013, House Resolution 2918, was introduced by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and 14 Democrat and Republican colleagues.
"Over the past two and a half years, my staff and I have been working with United Mine Workers of America officials, miners, and retirees in an effort to protect healthcare and pension benefits for our miners," Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. "After hearing the stories of what these men and their families face if they lose their benefits, it was clear that we had to find a solution."
Also sponsoring are Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., George Miller, D-Calif., Andy Barr, R-Ky., Larry Buschon, R-Ind., Bill Enyart, D-Ill., Jim Moran, D-Va., Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, Allison Schwartz D-Pa., Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Mike Turner, R-Ohio, William Lacy Clay Jr., D-Mont., and David Joyce, R-Ohio.
"We have worked diligently together to craft legislation that addresses the most pressing issues retirees are facing as a result of Patriot Coal Co.'s bankruptcy," Capito said.
The Legislation ensures coal miners will have the benefits promised similar to the Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act, Rahall said.
The act provides for greater legal protection and funding for promised health care and pension benefits.
"After a lifetime of labor, they have earned the right to retire and live in dignity and I refuse to stand idly by as our miners see the benefits they earned over a lifetime eroded by forces beyond their control," Rahall said. "It's not fair. It's not right."
The Patriot Coal issue has resulted in large organized protests against the company, the latest on Tuesday at the headquarters of Arch Coal in Missouri where union President Cecil Roberts said Jesus would be on the side of the miners.
Thirty people were arrested last month in Fairmont at a rally on a football field at Fairmont State University.
Patriot filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.
A judge in May ruled the company could legally void its collective bargaining agreements and said the action may be unavoidable. The company in July also said it would enact lesser wage and benefit reductions on workers than what was allowable in the bankruptcy ruling.