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3/23/2005

UMWA backs new coal industry bankruptcy legislation

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts Hails Introduction in the U.S. House of Coal Industry Bankruptcy Legislation

Says Legislation Will Help Ensure Fairness to Coal Miners

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil Roberts is hailing today's introduction in the U.S. House of coal industry bankruptcy legislation.

The legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), clarifies that coal miners must be treated fairly when their employer utilizes the bankruptcy process. The need for the legislation was created in August, 2004, when a federal bankruptcy judge's ruling allowed Horizon Natural Resources to displace some 850 working coal miners, sell their mines out from under them and terminate health care for nearly 5,000 retired coal miners and their dependents and survivors, including some 2,000 whose benefits were protected by the 1992 Coal Act.

The legislation has already received strong support from several other coalfield representatives, including Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio).

"This is an excellent piece of legislation that targets bankruptcy reform only for the coal industry," explained Roberts. "It would prohibit coal operators from being able to use the 'sale of assets' process to shed their collective bargaining and labor law obligations. Coal operators would only be able to modify collective bargaining obligations through the statutory rejection process. The bill would also allow miners who are displaced through bankruptcy to keep their jobs and retain their right to bargain with the mine's new owner for at least a year after the sale. In addition, it would allow them to retain all rights granted them by American labor law. This is the kind of language the UMWA was looking for when we asked Congress for help, and we thank Rep. Boucher and those who have already co-sponsored the bill for listening and taking action."

Roberts added that the legislation is explicit in defining the terms of the process coal operators would have to use to reject a collective bargaining agreement.

"Once a rejection application is filed, corporate management would be displaced by a Trustee, who would be selected by the U.S. Trustee from a list of five provided by the Secretary of Labor," he explained. "It's a process very similar to that being used today in the railroad industry. If the rejection is approved by the Trustee, the affected miners would still retain their non-economic contractual rights, as well as their rights under American labor law. And all pre-rejection obligations would be secured by a lien against the debtor's assets. Furthermore, if an operator seeks to escape its contractual obligation to provide health care to its retired miners, its affiliates would become jointly liable for those obligations. This is good, sound policy, and the UMWA fully supports it."

Roberts added, "The UMWA will continue to work closely with our friends in Congress to ensure that coal operators can no longer use the nation's bankruptcy courts to break their promises. We will never give up our fight to rectify the great injustice imposed on the UMWA's Horizon coal miners last year, or our Bethlehem Steel miners the year before"

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