On May 30, a bankruptcy court handed a devastating blow to mineworkers across the nation. The courts ruled that Patriot Coal could declare bankruptcy and effectively end its obligation to provide healthcare and retirement benefits to mineworkers. Thousands of miners who spent up to 12 hours a day in the mines breathing in harmful coal dust that can result in Black Lung disease and other ailments have been stripped of healthcare benefits intended to alleviate the financial burdens of retirement. NCL, a long-time ally of the United Mine Workers of America, is extremely disappointed with the court’s ruling and thinks the decision ensures corporate greed wins out over everyday worker’s rights.
A closer examination of Patriot Coal’s financials indicates that the company was doomed for failure. When Peabody Energy formed Patriot Coal in 2007, the company held more liabilities than assets. “NCL believes that Patriot was set up to fail,” says Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director.
This ruling reinforces a dangerous precedent established by the courts wherein a company can declare bankruptcy and offload retirees’ benefits. Many Americans think that union contracts are binding agreements between workers and companies; a string of recent court rulings, however, indicate otherwise. This ruling demonstrates that big business can throw workers aside in the name of corporate greed, which will severely weaken our labor unions. This is an unthinkable decision that has far-reaching negative implications for union workers across the country.