MADISONVILLE, Ky. (8/28/13) – A busload of UMWA retirees, union representatives and friends traveled from Madisonville to St. Louis Tuesday, Aug. 27 to deliver a message to Peabody Energy that miners, which have fallen under the Patriot's retirement system, are not happy despite a recent settlement.
United Mine Workers Association members, who work at Patriot Coal operations in West Virginia and Kentucky, ratified an agreement Aug. 16 that affects terms and conditions of employment in spite of a federal bankruptcy judge's order in May.
It also affects Patriot retirees' benefits. Several of them from Hopkins County joined with as many as 5,000 others at St. Louis' Market Street area at an amphitheater adjacent to the Peabody Energy home office.
"We had a peaceful protest Tuesday as we've been doing all summer," said Bill Smith, a retiree of Consolidated Coal, which has not been affected. "We're going back Sept. 24 just to get the message to Peabody that we're not happy about how they took their retirees and dumped them into the Patriot deal."
While Smith's retirement health plan is secured for a lifetime, he joined with his fellow UMWA members to try to bring awareness to deals that jeopardize union contracts.
"If this sort of thing mushrooms out even more, it could be somebody else next time," said Smith, who worked in coal mining for 39 years.
Hopkins County Magistrate Karol Welch traveled with the group Tuesday to offer her support.
"I am the daughter of Dorris E. Durham, a union coal miner," said Welch. "I'm supporting the union coal miners because their benefits have been instrumental in building businesses in Hopkins County."
Welch said that the number of area miners and their health insurance benefits helped build the strong medical community in Madisonville. Miners wages helped the local economy by direct and indirect ways, she said.
"I believe because of the United Mine Workers, our non-union miners have better pay and benefits," she said. "It is time for the union and non-union workers to ban together and work toward a settlement for the union miners. If this precedent is followed, every employee from every job in America is at risk of losing their good hourly pay, health care and pension benefits."
Welch believes that many more jobs will be jeopardized in the wake May's bankruptcy ruling regarding Patriot.
Rita Dukes Smith
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