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Walter Energy requests end to union deals.

Alabama-based miner Walter Energy, currently wading through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, is seeking approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to cut ties to its employment agreements with worker unions so that it can move forward to divest its Alabama coal assets. The producer filed documentation on November 23 asking a judge to approve a plan that would end the deals as well as retiree benefit payments. According to the filing, it is seeking to sell its assets out of the bankruptcy, but that hinges upon its rejection of the collective bargaining agreements for several hundred workers and another 3,000 or so retirees, both union and non-union.

A Reuters report said that Walter's lenders have already indicated that they will acquire the mines, but that they will not be tied into the agreements with the unions, which include the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and United Steelworkers (USW). In the documentation, Walter officials said the lenders' mission is "no surprise" given the CBA's terms, which it reportedly called "onerous."

"The debtors suffer from crippling legacy labor obligations, principally in the form of medical benefits and pension obligations, as well as insupportable hourly labor cost," the company said in the papers.

USW spokesperson Wayne Ranick told Reuters that the union will tackle the issues at the bargaining table and that it would fight the company's request. "This is unfortunately the classic case of a bankrupt company trying to take advantage of temporary issues in the steel and coal markets to avoid pension and retiree insurance obligations and slash wages and benefits," he said.

UMWA officials concurred. "If successful, Walter Energy will force many retirees into making life or death decisions about getting needed health care or buying food; about getting the prescription drugs they need to stay alive or pay the mortgage," President Cecil Roberts said.

"We will fight this. We will fight it in court, we will fight it in the streets and we will fight it on the picket lines if we have to. Our members and retirees did nothing wrong. They are not responsible for Walter Energy's bankruptcy. If Walter thinks it is going to solve its self-inflicted corporate woes solely on the backs of our members, it needs to think again," he added.

Walter spokesperson William Stanhouse told Reuters that Walter Energy is in a tough position. "As a result of the market conditions we face today, the choice is between taking these steps or no longer operating," he said.

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Publication:Coal Age (1996)
Date:Dec 1, 2015
Words:416
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