UMWA does tentative labor deals with Alpha Natural, Contura Energy

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union said July 11 that it has reached a tentative contract agreement with Contura Energy, which was formed by some Alpha Natural Resources creditors to buy certain Alpha assets out of bankruptcy proceedings, and with Alpha itself, which is reorganizing around some of its other mining assets.

The Contura deal covers current Alpha operations in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia that are represented by the UMWA, and the deal with Alpha covers UMWA members at several operations in West Virginia.

If ratified, the tentative agreement with Contura would cover nearly 800 workers at the Cumberland and Emerald longwall mines in Greene County, Pennsylvania, the McClure preparation plant in Dickenson County, Virginia, and the Power Mountain preparation plant in Nicholas County, West Virginia. The tentative agreement with Alpha would cover more than 100 UMWA members at preparation plants in West Virginia that the company is not transferring to Contura.

“This has been a long and difficult set of negotiations,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “It is never easy bargaining with a company in bankruptcy, especially one that has a judge’s order in its back pocket that eliminates the existing agreement, wipes out retiree health care and ends pension contributions.

Roberts added: “This is the last of three companies that filed bankruptcy in 2015 to emerge, and we sincerely hope there will be no more. Workers always come last in bankruptcy proceedings and retirees suffer significant loss.”

Workers at the covered operations will vote on contract ratification on July 14. Details of the tentative agreement will not be released until ratification is completed.

Notable is that Alpha has been saying it planned to shut the Emerald longwall mine late last year due to coal reserve depletion. U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows the mine as “non-producing,” with no production in the first half of this year. MSHA data shows the mine with no underground workers in the second quarter of this year, and only 16 underground workers in the first quarter. The mine last produced coal in the fourth quarter of 2015, when it turned out 16,209 tons, with output of 1.7 million tons in all of 2015. This Pittsburgh-seam producer turned out nearly 4 million tons in 2014. The nearby Cumberland longwall mine, which also works the Pittsburgh coal seam, is still operating and picked up some of the ex-Emerald workers.

Alpha Natural Resources on July 7 announced that, contingent upon the finalization of certain definitive documentation and the entry of an order in the coming days, the U.S Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia approved the Plan of Reorganization for Alpha and certain of its wholly owned subsidiaries. The plan will become effective upon Alpha’s emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which is expected to occur in late July. The plan basically splits the company in two, with certain operations, mostly in Central Appalachia, staying with a reorganized Alpha, and other operations, including its big Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte strip mines in Wyoming, spun off to certain creditors operating under Contura Energy.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.