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Kentucky Miners Lose Health Benefits

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- Months of speculation and worry turned into reality for thousands of active and retired Southern Illinois coal miners Monday when a federal bankruptcy judge granted a request by Horizon Natural Resources to void its contracts with the union, a move that will cancel health care benefits. The decision could affect as many as 3,000 miners in Southern Illinois. Lawyers for Horizon had appeared before Judge William Howard two weeks ago and asked -- as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan -- that the company not be held responsible for health care benefits for the union miners and retirees who previously worked for Zeigler Coal and Old Ben Coal. Union officials claim the case involving Horizon is the latest in a growing number of bankruptcies involving energy, airline and steel firms where companies have used bankruptcy laws to eliminate or reduce pension and retirement benefits that had been gained through labor negotiations. United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts wasted little time in blasting the decision. "What a complete and utter travesty of justice. If this decision doesn't cause America's working families to start looking around at who is running this country and which direction we are headed then I fear for our nation," Roberts said. "These workers did absolutely nothing wrong. They worked hard, did what was expected and accepted lower wages for the promise of health care. But look where that got them. They've been left high and dry." Calls to Bill Bissett, a spokesperson with Charles Ryan and Associates, a public relations firm from Charleston, W.Va., that represents HNR were not returned. Horizon, which is based in Ashland, Ky., operates 42 mines, including 27 surface and 15 underground in Kentucky, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana and Colorado. It has been embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings that include the Zeigler 11 Mine near Coulterville for more than two years.
Personal Thoughts On The Issue

In the 1930's they were called gun-thugs. In the 40s and 50s they were called strike busters. Now the newest way of busting unions is called federal bankruptcy judges.

Who's to blame for this?

Without pointing fingers, I'll leave it up to you to decide that one. BUT, I do want to bring up a certain fact that cannot be disputed since it is in U.S. Congressional Record.

During 2002, new bankruptcy laws & reform bills passed the House again and were narrowly blocked in the Senate despite a Republican majority. Republican Senators who voted against reform and new bankruptcy laws drew sharp criticism from George W. Bush. A special interest group, the Financial Services Round Table (a special interest group representing 100 of the largest banks, insurance and investment companies in America), is largely responsible for drafting new bankruptcy laws and is one of Bush's largest campaign contributors.

The signing of the new bankruptcy laws, the very ones that protected Horizon Natural Resources, was the first agenda, act and bill signed by Bush. Think about it, this was the first act as a President and it was to sign in these new laws. He could have cast a veto and sent it back to Congress, but he did not.

Now let's take in to consideration that United States Bankruptcy judges are appointed to 14 year term offices, not elected by the people. Judge Howard was and I quote from the Kentucky Bankruptcy Courts website:

Judge William S. Howard was appointed to the bench in March, 1990. Prior to his appointment, he practiced law for 20 years in Lexington, Kentucky. Judge Howard received his BS degree in Chemical Engineering in 1966 and his JD in 1969, both from the University of Kentucky.

March 1990...who was in office then? President George H. Bush, the father of current president George W. Bush. Also take in to consideration his term will be up in March of 2005, where he will have to be recommended for reappointment by the brass in D.C. Maybe, just maybe busting a union would guarantee reappointment by a Republican-lead administration

Points to ponder.


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