Three massive coal companies- Peabody, Arch and Patriot Coal-are trying to use the U.S. bankruptcy court to wipe away pension and healthcare plans for 23,000 retired miners and their families.
Shirley Inman, a retired miner whose retirement benefits are threatened, explains the scheme and what’s at stake for her:
“I never worked a day for Patriot Coal. I don’t care what the corporate name is, those executives made us a promise: We’d mine their coal, and in exchange we’d have good health care while we worked and after we retired. I kept my promise; they should keep theirs.”
Even while trying to shred benefits for retirees like Shirley, Patriot Coal has the nerve to ask the bankruptcy court for $6 million for executive bonuses.
UMWA has been fighting this in the courts and on the streets – holding rallies, protests, marches and acts of civil disobedience in St. Louis for months.
On Monday, over 7,000 union activists and community supporters converged on Charleston, WV. Our bus from Roanoke arrived just in time for our group to walk into the giant civic center packed with thousands of camo-clad UMWA members to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’. It’s stunning to see that many union people together. Knowing we were all there to fight for a just cause only added to the impact.
Monday started with a rally featuring remarks from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, UMWA President Cecil Roberts, UMWA Secretary-Treasurer Dan Kane, Senator Joe Manchin, and West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. Then the overflowing crowd marched the two blocks to Patriot Headquarters.
Sixteen labor and religious leaders, including state fed presidents from Kentucky and West Virginia, offered themselves up for arrest in a peaceful act of civil disobedience. Cecil Roberts (International President of UMWA) repeatedly told the crowd, “If you haven’t been asked to be arrested, do not get arrested.” He knew those who spent hours on buses and traveled from 7 states would have joined the group in a heartbeat.
Doris was among the sixteen. In her remarks, she said she couldn’t think of a better reason to be arrested for the first time and was deeply honored to represent Virginia’s labor movement in this way.
Afterwards, Doris explained she had chills on the top of her head walking through the crowd. Adding, “it’s hard to describe the power of that moment.” For everyone there, it was a moving way to stand with thousands of retired miners against the greed of billion dollar companies.
The whole day was a reminder of how unique our movement is. It showed that over 7,000 activists would happily, in any way that was asked, stand in solidarity with their union brothers and sisters.
On the bus trip back, Lisa Kirkwood (APWU 482) said, “my grandfather was a coal miner. So this was a double thing for me- I went out to support them but also in his honor.” Penny Franklin (IUE-CWA 82162) whose uncles were coal miners said making the trip was a no-brainer for her; there was no way she would have missed it. Everyone seemed to have a special connection with the Mineworkers. Mike Amos (USW Local 1023) called them his mentors. He recalled during the NAFTA fight, UMWA members from SW Virginia joining the fight even though it would not impact their jobs directly. He remembered them saying, “if they could move our mines to Mexico, they would. We’re here to stand with you.”
Richard Shorter (IUE-CWA 82162) added, “it was overwhelming really to see all the different locals of the UMWA and also the different affiliates of the AFL-CIO… come together in support of the United Mineworkers in their struggle.”
Flipping through the radio stations on the drive from Roanoke to NOVA, I came to a Christian station and one of the hosts said, “Oneness is probably the most powerful concept there is.” That could not have summed up the day any better.