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.