The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

March 31, 2013

Promises

 

They gave their best, working their whole lives in tough conditions that many of us wouldn’t want to withstand on a daily basis.

They provided our state and nation with a source of energy.

But now, they’re being denied the pension and benefits promised to them upon their retirement.

It is just not right.

And it’s definitely not Patriotic.

The United Mine Workers of America is planning to bring at least 50 buses and some 5,000 people to Charleston on Monday to protest outside the state offices of bankrupt Patriot Coal Corp.

The union has staged multiple protests at Patriot offices in St. Louis and is running an ad campaign aimed at pressuring Patriot to abandon plans for shedding a $1.6 billion liability for pensions and health care benefits.

About 23,000 retired miners and their families would be affected by that plan.

Now the focus of the dispute comes to West Virginia.

The heart of coal country.

Miners from southern West Virginia and states such as Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia are expected to arrive at the Civic Center for a rally, then the participants will march through downtown Charleston to Laidley Tower.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, UMWA President Cecil Roberts and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka are expected to speak out.

It’s here that we hope this issue is resolved.

Earlier this week, the West Virginia House of Delegates joined U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and others calling for St. Louis-based Patriot to honor its pension and benefit commitments.

We share that sentiment.

Honor those promises.

Retired miners are entitled to their pensions and benefits.

Patriot, which filed for bankruptcy in July 2012, said earlier this month that it wants to modify its collective bargaining agreement and create a trust fund for retiree health care benefits. Patriot says the move is needed to save 4,000 existing jobs.

But union leaders say Peabody Energy and Arch Coal spun off assets and set up Patriot to fail in a deliberate plan to end benefit obligations to union retirees.

Patriot denies that, saying it’s the victim of “unforeseen events” including the global financial crisis, new environmental regulations and a reduction in metallurgical coal prices.

The retirees and their families deserve their pensions and benefits.

They have no other options.

It’s time to take care of the miners who took care of Patriot, their state and their nation, yes, while taking care of their own families by going deep into the mines each day, risking their lives in one of the most dangerous professions in America.

It’s the right thing to do.

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