Spearheaded by the United Mine Workers of America, thousands of protesters flocked to St. Louis yesterday in a large rally against Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, which have been accused of orchestrating a complex scheme to deny health care benefits to unionized retirees.
"This is clearly growing," Phil Smith, communications director for UMWA, tells Daily RFT. "More and more of our members are coming...and we are getting support from other unions, the religious and civic community.... People see this is as not just a struggle for the coal miners involved. If they can do this to us, then who is next?"
Meanwhile, Peabody Energy, the corporation headquartered in St. Louis, was holdings its annual shareholder meeting in Gillette, Wyoming yesterday -- in an unprecedented move to escape activist protests, according to their critics. But even out of state, the company still felt the pressure from labor rights advocates. And there were still arrests.
See also: - Peabody Holds Meeting in Wyoming: Trying to Escape St. Louis Protest? - Photos: Seven Arch Coal Protesters Lock Themselves to 500-Pound Plant Pot - Tea Partiers Hold Flash Mob Outside Peabody Energy St. Louis
"You can't just walk away from your moral obligation. You think you can, but you can't. And it's time to step up to the plate," Smith says of the companies.
In addition to the major demonstrations, the UMWA ran a full-page ad on A3 of the Post-Dispatch yesterday with big letters saying, "We come seeking justice," over a picture of graves and a sign that reads in all caps, "ARE YOU NEXT?"
The print ad outlines the basic allegations of the union and their supporters: Arch Coal and Peabody Energy tried to escape their health care obligations to retirees by creating a company called Patriot Coal that was purposely designed to fail. The full-page spread says:
While the perpetrators of this injustice, Arch Coal and Peabody Energy, meet in seclusion in Wyoming to congratulate themselves for putting the lives of thousands of senior citizens at risk, Patriot Coal's lawyers today begin the final chapter of Arch's and Peabody's scheme to rid themselves of their long term obligations to those retirees.
The latter part of the statement refers to the ongoing legal dispute surrounding Patriot's filing for bankruptcy last year; Patriot, which has said it must cut annual employee obligations, has argued that Peabody, its former parent company, is liable. The workers, the union argues, are the ones who suffer.
Patriot and Arch Coal did not respond to our requests for comment yesterday. a Peabody Energy spokesperson, however, offered us a lengthy response, pushing back against the union's allegations and arguing that the company has continued to meet all of its obligations.
The statement, full version on view below, says:
UMWA's claim that Patriot Coal was 'designed to fail' is a desperate attempt to rewrite history. Patriot was highly successful following its launch more than five years ago with significant assets, low debt levels and a market value that more than quadrupled in less than a year....
A series of other unforeseen events affecting all coal producers followed − all on Patriot's watch....
Peabody has lived up to its obligations and continues to do so. The UMWA is fully aware that this is a matter solely between the union and Patriot Coal, and the proper process for deciding such issues is through the bankruptcy court - not the court of public opinion.
Continue for more from yesterday's protests and for full statements.
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