[TRIANGLE, VA.] Members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) ratified new collective bargaining agreements with Contura Energy, the company that is emerging from the Alpha Natural Resources Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings with operations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia; and with Alpha itself at several operations in West Virginia and Kentucky.
The new 4 ½ year collective bargaining agreement with Contura Energy was approved by 89% of those voting at the Cumberland and Emerald operations in Greene County, Pa., the Power Mountain preparation plant in Nicholas County, W.Va., and the McClure preparation plant in Dickinson County, Va.
The new agreement with Alpha Natural Resources covers workers at five preparation plants in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky and was approved by 98% of those voting. Only two of those operations, the Bandmill plant and the Litwar plant, are currently operating.
“As always happens in bankruptcy situations, Contura Energy and Alpha had orders from the bankruptcy Judge that eliminated the previous contract and stripped away any obligations for these companies to continue paying for pensions and retiree health care,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “We were essentially starting from zero in negotiating these agreements. Because of the solidarity our members at these operations, we were able to preserve virtually every article of the previous agreement other than defined benefit pensions and retiree health care.”
As per the bankruptcy Judge’s order, neither Contura Energy nor Alpha will pay into the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan going forward. In lieu of the companies paying for and administering retiree health care, lump-sum payments totaling $28.5 million will be paid to a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) that the UMWA will manage until that funding runs out.
“The loss of pension payments and company-paid retiree health care only adds to the critical need to pass pending legislation in Congress to ensure the retirees who mined the coal to energize our nation will get the retirement security America promised to them,” Roberts said. “The funding in the VEBA will not last long. Time is quickly running out for these and thousands of other retirees who depend on these benefits.”