A pending federal bankruptcy court decision could affect thousands of Kentucky mine worker benefits.
Patriot Coal Corporation, which operates two mines in Union and Henderson counties, wants to modify their collective bargaining agreements with the United Mine Workers Association. Patriot will replace all health care benefits for retirees with a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association trust. Patriot doesn't plan to replace the health insurance program for current employees.
The UMWA believes these changes are unacceptable.
UMWA Spokesman Phil Smith said if the bankruptcy judge rules in Patriot's favor, there could be a strike.
“If there’s a solution here to be found, we’re doing our best to try to find it,” Smith said. “But we’re not prepared to just do whatever it is Patriot wants to be done, and put our retirees at risk and put our membership future at risk.”
Patriot President and CEO Bennett Hatfield said that the benefit cuts are the single most important action necessary to ensure Patriot’s financial viability and emergence from bankruptcy.
Patriot also plans to cut wages up to 7 dollars per hour.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mary Surratt-States must issue a ruling by the end of the month.