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Patriot Coal reaches agreement with miners’ trade union

World Coal,

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and Patriot Coal Corp., have reached a settlement following months of dispute between the parties.

In June, World Coal reported that a US bankruptcy court had ruled in favour of proposals by Patriot to eliminate its collective bargaining agreements and cut off retiree healthcare. The ruling was greeted with disappointment from the UMWA and there followed serious negotiations between the union and Patriot, as well as public protests.

The new settlement includes an agreement to limit wage cuts to US$ 1/hour, down from a possible US$ 7/hour under the initial judgement. As of January 2015, workers will also be eligible for a US$ 0.50/hour annual pay rise. The deal maintains the workers’ life, vision, dental and accident insurance plans.

On the most contentious issues surrounding retiree healthcare and pension benefits, Patriot will continue to pay into the existing multiemployer pension plant for retired workers and their families, but new employees will be put into a new 401(k) scheme.

The company also agreed to make an initial US$ 15 million contribution to help fund a new Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) to pay retiree healthcare benefits going forward. It will also give the UMWA a 35% stake in the company, for the union to sell when Patriot emerges from bankruptcy to further fund the VEBA.

The settlement was ratified by active and laid-off UMWA members in West Virginia and Kentucky, who voted 85% in favour.

Bennett K. Hatfield, Patriot president and CEO, said the settlement, “represents the successful conclusion of a difficult negotiation in which both the UMWA leadership and Patriot management have invested many long days. We appreciate the cooperation of the UMWA leadership and the sacrifices of all of our employees and retirees as we work to restore Patriot to viability.”

Written by Sam Dodson

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