More Peaceful Sit-Downs, More Peaceful Arrests In Anti-Peabody Energy, Anti-Patriot Protests

CWA PRESIDENT LARRY COHEN (center) and MINE WORKERS PRESIDENT CECIL ROBERTS are among those led away in handcuffs in the latest protest against Patriot Coal’s use of bankruptcy laws to dump health benefits owed to retired miners.

CWA PRESIDENT LARRY COHEN (center) and MINE WORKERS PRESIDENT CECIL ROBERTS are among those led away in handcuffs in the latest protest against Patriot Coal’s use of bankruptcy laws to dump health benefits owed to retired miners.

ST. LOUIS —It’s getting to be a regular thing.

Every month, thousands of unionists, led by the Mine Workers, gather in St. Louis, or West Virginia, or New York City, to protest the bankruptcy proceedings involving Patriot Coal Co., the underfunded spinoff of giant Peabody Energy. Peabody deliberately set up Patriot to (a) dump retired miners’ health care costs on it and (b) go broke due to lack of funding. That would leave the retirees without health care.

And every month, the protesters step into the street, or sit down in it, in an act of peaceful civil disobedience, and 16 or so get arrested.

The latest monthly protest occurred April 28 in St. Louis, in front of the federal courthouse where the Patriot Coal bankruptcy case drags on. Some 6,000 people marched on the courthouse. They stepped into the street and the police expected them. But there was a new twist: It wasn’t just miners and their leaders getting arrested.

It was their allies, too.

Among those led away in handcuffs were Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg, activist Van Jones and, of course, Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts. Eleven rank-and-file Mine Workers were also arrested. All who were arrested were later released.

Peabody evaded its health care obligations by spinning them off to underfunded Patriot in 2007. Patriot filed for bankruptcy reorganization protection last July.

Corporate bankruptcy lets firms break union contracts, end pensions, trash health care and fire workers. Other firms nationwide, including Hostess Brands and American Airlines, have used the same tactics against their union workers.

The difference in the Peabody-Patriot case is that the firm that really owes the miners their health care – Peabody – ducked its duty. That’s the point of the protests.

“Every one of us, wherever we come from, have UMWA members in our hearts,” Cohen told the crowd before the march began, “Mine Workers are the patriots, not a company that calls itself ‘Patriot.’ Our union will absolutely take this fight on as our fight.

“We will find ways to be out here by the tens of thousands. We absolutely understand that if the courts of this country can do this, they can do anything. This is something I learned standing with you in the Pittston struggle years ago. One day longer, as long as it takes,” Cohen said. ###
Press Associates, Inc. (PAI) – 5/3/2013