United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said in a Dec. 28 statement that the union will fight an order issued that day by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama severing the union obligations of Walter Energy, which plans to auction its U.S. coal mining assets free and clear of those obligations.
“The decision announced today by Judge Tamara O. Mitchell of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Birmingham rejecting our collective bargaining agreement with Walter Energy and wiping out Walter’s obligation to pay retiree health care and pension benefits is extremely disappointing but not surprising,” said Roberts. “The law is stacked against workers in American bankruptcy courts. A lifetime of hard work and dedication means nothing to the courts. The life or death decisions vulnerable senior citizens will now be forced to make mean nothing to the courts. Apparently all that matters is that executives get bonuses and Wall Street raiders get paid.”
Roberts added: “The fact that while she was stripping our members of everything, Judge Mitchell granted $2 million in bonuses to Walter management is especially galling. If this is justice in America, then something is very, very wrong. I want to be very clear: This decision does nothing to slow our effort to maintain a union contract at Walter Energy operations nor does it end our fight to maintain retiree health care benefits. If anything, it strengthens our resolve in this battle. We will not be turned around. We will prevail, because UMWA members are now and always have been prepared to do whatever it takes to win.”
Roberts said that negotiations with the company are underway and he hopes the sides can reach an agreement.