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Protesters Return To St. Louis As Patriot Coal Health Benefits Case Continues

(Maria Altman/St. Louis Public Radio)

A motion by Patriot Coal to cut health benefits for 10,000 retired miners was heard Monday in a federal bankruptcy court in St. Louis.

More than 1,500 protesters, many with the United Mine Workers of America, rallied in downtown to draw attention to the case.

The UMWA is angry with Patriot for asking a federal bankruptcy judge to allow it to shed about $1.6 billion in liabilities.

But they also direct their anger at Peabody Energy, which spun off Patriot in 2007.

Charlie Clemmons of Morganville, Ky. has worked 25 years in coal mines first for Peabody, then Patriot.

“If I’d known years ago that I wasn’t going to have this health care or this pension I wouldn’t have continued to work in the mines,” Clemmons said. “Now they’re wanting to take it away.”

Sixteen people were arrested in front of the federal courthouse Monday, including UMWA President Cecil Roberts.

Earlier Roberts told protesters they’re fighting for people’s lives in trying to keep their benefits.

“We come today not just to march; we come today not just to rally; we come today to save lives,” Roberts said.

Patriot officials say they must get $150 million more in savings or it could face liquidation.

The company offered the union a 35 percent stake in a reorganized company if it agrees to a cheaper health care benefit trust fund.

Union officials have called it a good first step, but say it still doesn’t do enough for retirees.

Follow Maria Altman on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.