Saturday, July 18, 2015

Coal companies rip off miners' pensions


Coal companies rip off miners' pensions

Bill McKibben

If you go to the website of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of Missouri, you can read more than 1,000 letters from retired coal miners and their widows.
Their words are like the lyrics to an endless Johnny Cash ballad, and even more heartbreaking. They tell the eternal tale of the greedy few, this time playing out in real time in our America.
Here’s the story: In the fall of 2007, Peabody Energy Corp. (BTU), the coal-mining giant, spun off all its unionized mines into a new company, Patriot Coal Corp. (PCXCQ) In the process, it got rid of the promises it had made over generations to coal miners and their families.


Or, as Peabody’s chief executive officer put it, “We’re reducing our legacy liabilities roughly $1 billion.” This was such a good idea that another coal giant, Arch Coal Inc. (ACI), unloaded its union mines on Patriot as well, though it cycled them first through yet another front. All totted up, Patriot now had 10,000 retirees and their health-care benefits on its books. This company was designed to fail. Patriot is almost certainly the only five-year-old company on earth with three times as many retirees as employees, 90 percent of whom never worked for the company. And fail it did, declaring bankruptcy last summer. Now it’s going through Chapter 11 reorganization and hoping to emerge freed of its obligations for the pensions and medical care of those miners. [...]

In a corporate sleight-of-hand, the promises won with a lifetime of hard work and hard bargaining disappeared first into a holding company. Now, if the bankruptcy judge agrees, they will disappear into thin air. [...]

And in this case, Patriot is doing nothing to hide its fat- cat heart. Its bankruptcy advisers billed $2,635 for a single dinner; the company is even now seeking court permission to hand out $6 million in bonuses to executives.

I’m an environmentalist. I think we can’t keep burning coal because the carbon it produces is, right this moment, melting the Arctic, acidifying the ocean and raising the temperature of the earth in ways that most climate scientists think endanger the prospects of our civilization.
But part of civilization is taking care of people who have worked hard. That’s why every climate bill proposed in Congress should have extensive sections designed to protect retirees and retrain existing workers. [...]



Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2011GOP Wall Street reform repeal efforts moving forward:
We knew this was coming, the Republicans' latest not-job creating legislation to roll back Wall Street reform. Because, hey, what's a little global financial meltdown between friends? Why should Wall Street have to be accountable? […]

Of course, they're not proposing putting anything in its place. They don't do policy, they only do dismantling. But, as Greg Sargent says, they're approaching this one more cautiously, and certainly more quietly, than they did health reform repeal. That's because Wall Street is still hugely unpopular and untrusted. As Greg says, "[t]his one could provide another chance to draw a very clear contrast between the parties—on turf that may be a bit more favorable to Dems than health care repeal or spending."

For that to happen, Dems—including the White House—need to make a lot of noise about it.

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