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UMWA Coal Miners Rally In St. Louis

Coal miners from southern Illinois and across the country again rallied in St. Louis Tuesday to protest Peabody Energy.

This is the third rally in front of Peabody's corporate headquarters. The UMWA says Peabody is ignoring its pension and health care responsibilities for some 20,000 retired coal miners in Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. The union claims Peabody off-load more than a half-billion dollars of its pension and health care responsibilities in 2007 to it's now bankrupt subsidiary Patriot Coal.

Most of the miners facing the possible loss of their retirement and health benefits never worked directly for Patriot. One of those is James Jones. Jones is retired and disabled from Peabody's Eagle 2 Mine in Shawneetown.  His benefits, along with several of his fellow retirees, are among those tied up in Patriot's bankruptcy proceedings.

“Everybody hates to lose their health care after working for it all these years,” Jones said. “We worked hard for what we got. We just hate to have it taken away from us.”

Jones, who lives near Harrisburg, IL, was arrested during the protest this morning for trespassing. He says he hopes the union's action and public opinion will help them keep their benefits.

“Hopefully, we hope to keep our health care by doing this. It’s about the only thing we can do at the time,” Jones said.

Patriot declared bankruptcy last summer.  Patriot officials say they cannot honor the pension obligations and are seeking relief of those debts in court. Peabody Energy, in a written release, says they have honored their responsibilities. The Peabody statement also says the UMWA retirees in question all worked for companies that are part of Patriot Coal, and Patriot's launch only occurred after the UMWA and its leadership specifically signed off on the retiree benefit payment structure with which Patriot started as an independent company. The Peabody statement also says that in 2011, Patriot and the UMWA renegotiated a collective bargaining agreement and chose not to change the benefits structure.

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