ST. LOUIS - "We are standing up for workers who may not be able to stand up for themselves," Kentucky AFL-CIO president, Bill Londrigan, told about 1,000 mineworkers, with their labor, community, and faith allies, as they rallied against Peabody Energy, one of the world's largest coal companies here on February 13.
The rally, called by the United Mine Workers' of America (UMWA), was the union's second mass rally and civil disobedience here in St. Louis in the past two weeks.
The last rally, on January 29, ended with Cecil Roberts, the union's international president, and nine other union members arrested; this rally ended with the union's international secretary-treasurer, Daniel Kane, and nine other union members arrested. Both acts of civil disobedience took place on 7th St. just steps away from Peabody's headquarters.
"There is a war on workers in this country," Londrigan continued. "Your fight is just another battle in a larger war."
Instead of "brass knuckles and gun thugs," Londrigan added, "corporate lawyers" are helping Peabody rob retirees of over $1 billion in health care and pension obligations.
According to the Mineworkers, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal created the spin-off company, Patriot Coal, in a scheme to deny pension and health care benefits to over 20,000 union members and their beneficiaries.
Patriot Coal filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in July, 2012 and shortly thereafter asked to be released from its pension and retirement obligations to UMWA members in West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio.
Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are both headquartered in St. Louis, Mo and about 50 percent of Patriot's unionized retirees live in the Illinois Basin coalfields.
The bankruptcy case was moved to St. Louis last November.
UMWA District 17 vice president, Joe Carter, a fourth generation coalminer, said Peabody's scheme "strikes at the very fabric of our union."
St. Louis AFL-CIO Central Labor Council vice president, John Ebeling, said, "Peabody is trying to impose an injustice." Then he asked, "How do you walk away from $1 billion in health care liabilities?"
Ebeling, who also serves as a vice president of the Communication Workers' Union of America (CWA) Local 6300, added, "The Company agreed to the terms. They bargained the contract. And you've already paid for the benefits. Brothers and sisters, if that's not stealing I don't know what is."
Londrigan took Ebeling's remarks one-step further when he said, "Workers need to recognize who[m] their enemies are. Then they need to get in the trenches, engage the enemy, and stand up until we get what we deserve."
Daryl Dewberry, UMWA District 20 vice president, said, "We've faced adversity before. We've been around since 1890. We're used to adversity. This union is designed to negotiate and to fight."
He added, "If these lying, conniving, nickel slick criminals want a fight, I say 'bring it.' Our members have been shot at, burned out, and turned out since 1890, and we're still here."
He called Peabody's actions "a criminal conspiracy."
The union's international secretary-treasurer, Daniel Kane, said there were two things that make this bankruptcy a "sham" and Peabody a "rouge company."
"First," he said, despite the bankruptcy "the lawyers will still get paid. And second, the executives will still get million dollar bonuses. It is a crime."
He said the executives at Peabody Energy "deserve a cell next to Bernie Madoff."
He concluded, "I'm tired of an economy that walks on workers. And we need to change that."
Shortly thereafter, Kane and nine other UMWA members walked into the middle of 7th Street, sat down, and were arrested.
Photo: Cecil Roberts and other UMWA members, several of whom were black lung victims, engage in civil disobedience. Tony Pecinovsky/PW