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Bankruptcy Should Not Be a License to Steal

By Ed Wytkind

UMWA Public pressure is mounting on yet another company — Patriot Coal — attempting to hide behind federal bankruptcy law to strip health care and pensions from more than 20,000 workers and retirees. But more must be done to keep the heat on before another corporation breaks its promises.

That is exactly what up to 10,000 union members and supporters were doing earlier this week when they marched on Patriot Coal headquarters in Charleston, W.Va., to protest the company’s move to cut employee retirement and health care.  Leading the way was United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts who, along with 15 others, were arrested for civil disobedience.

But we cannot let the UMWA stand in this fight alone.  This goes far beyond the hills of West Virginia, and impacts more than just union coal miners.  This was even evidenced yesterday when Patriot asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis to cap the life insurance benefits if its non-union retirees, and dispose of all life insurance for active non-union employees.

Bankruptcy was designed to help individuals and companies in times of great difficulty. Bankruptcy should not be a license to steal, or a green light for lawyers to cook up schemes that enrich a select few by robbing a great many.

A growing number of elected officials, thankfully, are taking a public stand on the side of workers and retirees – and against destructive corporate greed.  In recent weeks U.S. senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), and West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin have all condemned Patriot’s actions, as did AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who spoke at the rally.

As we’ve written about before, this company was formed when Peabody Energy and Arch Coal merged for the sole purpose of triggering a self-serving bankruptcy.  This shell game produced a new company – offensively named Patriot – that is asking a bankruptcy judge to throw out its contract with the United Mine Workers of America.  Earlier this year the 33 unions of the TTD Executive Committee stood together to condemn Patriot’s shameful, arrogant agenda.

I’ve always been moved by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Patriot Coal is a poster child for corporate greed and arrogance.  We cannot remain silent.  We cannot let them win.

In times this tough, and in the face of injustice this grave, workers and public officials everywhere must take a stand.  Please take action today to support the UMWA in its Fairness at Patriot campaign.


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