Protesters are gathering in Gillette this week to demonstrate against the Patriot Coal Company during Arch and Peabody Coal’s annual shareholder meetings. Patriot was formed in 2007 when Peabody unloaded its operations east of the Mississippi, along with its long-term health care obligations to some of its retirees. Arch formed a similar company, called Magnum, which was later acquired by Patriot along with another set of benefited retirees. However, Patriot filed bankruptcy last summer, citing “substantial and unsustainable legacy costs.”
The United Mine Workers of America allege that the formation of Patriot was designed to get rid of some of the obligations to retirees, and those health care obligations should be picked up by Peabody and Arch. Retired miner Joe T. Brown came up from West Virginia to protest Peabody.
“I depend on them to pay my medical, it was in the contract,” says Brown. “I sat down and negotiated the contract and signed a contract saying they would pay it… Peabody did, like I said I never worked for Patriot, but Peabody promised this to me, and I earned it. I worked for them for 33 years.”
Peabody has said that Patriot was forced to declare bankruptcy due to a weakening coal market, not because Peabody set it up to fail. UMWA says the two St.Louis-based companies moved their meetings to non-union Wyoming to limit turnout at the protests, something both Arch and Peabody have denied.