Notes on justice and peace

Months of protests by retired members of the United Mine Workers of America and their supporters have led to a tentative settlement with Patriot Coal Corp. over the severity of cuts in pensioner health care benefits.

About 1,800 active and laid off union members in Kentucky and West Virginia will vote on the proposal Aug. 16, the union said.

UMWA declined to release details other than to say that the deal was a significant improvement over the company’s earlier offers. Patriot also did not release details.

Both sides welcomed the tentative agreement, reached after weeks of negotiations, in statements on their websites. (UMWA and Patriot)

St. Louis-based Patriot Coal wanted to significantly reduce the health benefits for retirees and their families under an effort to restructure the company, which filed for bankruptcy 13 months ago. The plan was approved by Judge Kathy Surratt-States, of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Union members and supporters have protested the move for months, saying that Patriot was a shell corporation for two other mining firms — Peabody Energy and Arch Coal — that wanted to escape liabilities to retirees and undertook a complex series of business moves beginning in 2005 to do so. The result was that very few of the thousands of retirees ever worked for Patriot but still are dependent on the company for their retirement benefits.

Months of protests and rallies at Peabody and Arch offices in St. Louis and West Virginia (the latest Aug. 13) led to planned arrests on minor charges. Among those who have been arrested were Glenmary Father John Rausch, a leader in Religious Leaders for Coalfield Justice, and Father Andrew Switzer, associate pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Parkersburg, W.Va., and the son of a UMWA leader.

UPDATE: Religious Leaders for Coalfield Justice and Interfaith Worker Justice welcomed the tentative agreement in an Aug. 14 statement. At the same, both organizations said they believe Peabody and Arch sold off assets to Patriot Coal “to divest themselves of long-term legal retirement and health care obligations to retirees and their families. “The settlement fails to address Peabody’s and Arch’s culpability to provide for a long-term fix for retiree health care,” the groups said.

“As people of faith we are committed to walk alongside our brothers and sisters at UMWA until justice, retirement and health care security can be maintained for active and retired miners, their families and coalfield communities,” the groups added.

SECOND UPDATE: UMWA members voted Aug. 16 by an 85 percent to 15 percent margin to accept the settlement. The deal is far better than what a federal bankruptcy court judge ordered in May, said UMWA president Cecil Roberts.

Patriot also will give the union a 35 percent to 38 percent stake in the company by establishing a voluntary employment benefit association to pay retiree health care benefits into the future.

The agreement also calls for Patriot to stay in the UMWA pension fund with no affect on pension benefits for current retires; active members will continue to earn pension credit. Current employees will receive other improvements in wages and benefits under the contract.

Roberts said in a statement that the deal does not provide enough financial resources to maintain lifetime health care benefits for retirees, as Peabody and Arch had agreed to provide to their retirees. But he pledged that the union will continue to seek ways to “hold Peabody and Arch accountable.”

Catholic Charities USA annual gathering in San Francisco

Catholic Charities USA brings its annual gathering to San Francisco Sept. 14-16.

Meeting under the theme “Building Bridges to Opportunitiy,” hundreds of Catholic Charities staffers and volunteers from across the country will meet for three days to strategize about poverty reduction and hear from expert speakers.

Patrick Lencioni, president of the Table Group, a consulting firm that assists organizations build services and employee engagement, is one of the keynote speakers. Workshops and seminars also are planned.

It’s not too late to register.

Upcoming events

Aug. 24: 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington, Washington.

Aug. 28: 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” Washington.

Sept. 5: Franciscan Action Network climate change webinar.

Oct. 25: Pax Christi USA Momentum 2013, Trinity University Washington, honoring Mary Meg McCarthy, director, National Immigrant Justice Center, as 2013 Teacher of Peace.

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