Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Virginia State News

March 25, 2013

W.Va. House calls on Patriot Coal to fund benefits

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Asking the state Senate to do the same, West Virginia's House of Delegates on Monday called for bankrupt Patriot Coal Corp. to honor its promises to around 23,000 retired miners and their families.

A non-binding measure adopted 93-4 decries the threatened loss of pension and retiree health benefits.

Estimating its liability at $1.6 billion, Patriot has warned it must end coverage for 10,000 retired miners and 13,000 dependents without court-approved relief. These people live mostly in West Virginia and four other states.

The United Mine Workers of America union has targeted Patriot as well as two other St. Louis-based operators, Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal. The union has filed lawsuits alleging Peabody and Arch spun off or sold mines to Patriot to shed the related retiree benefits, setting it up to fail.

House Majority Leader Mike Caputo urged support for Monday's resolution. A senior union officer, the Marion County Democrat described how he and other UMWA leaders were arrested at a January civil disobedience protest in St. Louis.

"This has happened to steel-line workers, airline workers, bakery workers, glass workers and now mine workers," Caputo said. "Enough is enough. It's time to take a stand."

Four Republicans voted against Monday's resolution including Delegate Troy Andes, an official with coal operator Alpha Natural Resources. The Putnam County lawmaker afterward said he empathizes with the Patriot retirees but questions the wisdom of the Legislature weighing in on a pending bankruptcy case.

"This case is between the United Mine Workers of America and Patriot Coal," Andes said.

Another nay voter, Delegate John McCuskey of Kanawha County, said his law firm represents Patriot and so asked whether he should be excused from voting. McCuskey was required to vote, given the resolution's non-binding nature.

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