Mike Elk has a very disturbing story about Patriot Coal, a spinoff of industry giant Peabody Coal, going to bankruptcy court to divest itself of the pension and healthcare obligations guaranteed to workers in contracts Peabody signed with the United Mine Workers of America.
There’s exactly one reason for Patriot to do this–to maximize profit on the backs of the poor. Peabody created Patriot in order to manufacture a bankruptcy crisis; by giving the new company more retirees than active workers, it set the stage for bankruptcy relief of contractual obligations.
But in the UMWA’s eyes, Peabody is the real villain. According to union estimates, 90 percent of Patriot’s retirees are former Peabody miners who “never worked a day in their life” for Patriot. The UMWA charges that Peabody created Patriot as a vehicle to shed its retiree obligations. As evidence, the union cites the fact that when Peabody spun off Patriot Coal in 2007, it handed Patriot three times as many retirees as active workers and $557 million in retiree healthcare obligations. Within five years, Patriot had filed for bankruptcy.
We’ve already seen a disturbing decline in pensions around the country in the public sector. Eliminating hard-fought pension gains in the private sector, not even for the future but for already retired workers, will push working-class retirees into poverty. Slashing healthcare is an even bigger deal in the mining industry. The specter of black-lung disease haunts underground miners, including those working today. What are these people supposed to do?
On a related note, read Dave Jamieson’s piece on how the Senate’s kneecapping of the National Labor Relations Board has hurt the lives of workers. Once again focusing on the coal industry (coal companies really are the worst), Jamieson shows how the lack of a functioning NLRB allows companies to do almost anything they want to workers with no realistic legal recourse that will be resolved in less than a decade. Once again, what are these workers supposed to do?