Kentucky bishops support retired mine workers

Retired union mine workers gained four new allies in their campaign to maintain cradle-to-grave health care benefits.

Kentucky’s four bishops have signed on to a statement saying that retired members of the United Mine Workers of America must be able to obtain their benefits, as promised by their original employer, even though a spinoff company that is emerging from bankruptcy protection is now paying those benefits.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop Roger J. Foys of Covington, Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro and Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Lexington lent their name to a statement that says it is the responsibility of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal to provide the benefits if the spinoff, Patriot Coal, is unable to live up to contract arrangements with the union.

“It’s a justice issue,” Father Patrick Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, told Catholic News Service.

While UMWA and Patriot recently agreed on a new contract, union officials said the amount of money set aside by Patriot is insufficient to provide lifetime health care benefits for current retirees. UMWA president Cecil Roberts has pledged that the union will continue to seek ways to “hold Peabody and Arch accountable.”

By signing the statement, the bishops have opted to support worker rights.

The statement cites Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical “Laborem Exercens” (“On Human Work”), which recognizes Catholic social teaching that the responsibilities of “indirect employers,” like Peabody and Arch Coal, do not cease with the formation of Patriot.

Records show that Patriot was spun off in 2007 by Peabody, which placed all of its unionized mines in Kentucky and West Virginia and more than 40 percent of its liabilities to retirees into the new company. Arch Coal did much the same two years earlier by creating Magnum Coal and placing its unionized mines in that company. Patriot absorbed Magnum in a $695 million deal in 2008.

The arrangement means that very few of the thousands of retirees ever worked for Patriot but still are dependent on the company for their retirement benefits.

2 Responses

  1. Mr. Sadowski’s first sentence says it all, perhaps unintentionally.Fr. Delahanty chimes in that it is “a justice issue.”

    Never mind, perhaps, the economics of all of it. The clergy never are very much “into” economics. One can’t easily get emotional about that topic, whereas conjuring pictures of people starving in the streets makes much better play.

    When company profits are such that healthcare coverage for workers is not burdensome from a fiscal standpoint, then there is a moral obligation to honor contracts. When economic conditions change, as they are changing all over the world, then it is time to look again at contracts and “rights.” The bishops, I’m sure, sing a much different tune when litigation begins regarding sexual abuse in their dioceses.

    Nothing like having spent some time in the real business world to give one a perspective on “workers’ rights”–and on “company rights” as well. People who go from hight school to the seminary and then on into clerical life are hardly qualified to offer much counsel on business and labor.

    May there be an acceptable settlement so that the workers and the companies can continue and employees and employers.

  2. Mr Lamers your response shows that you neither have a heart or conscious. I do believe his first meaning was that you do not start a new company just to so u can rid your self of your promised obligations .

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