Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
Another day, and another coal company is trying to rob its workers of their pensions and health plans.
On Monday, Alpha Natural Resources became the most recent coal company to file a petition with a US bankruptcy court.
They're asking that court to slash retiree benefits and tear up existing union contracts, worth nearly a billion dollars in payments to workers and retirees.
With May 16 set as the date that Alpha's assets will go to auction, Monday's filing is nothing less than a threat to the union workers: Let Alpha walk away from the contract, or else.
Seriously, in Monday's filing the company's lawyers explained that "If such cost savings cannot be achieved globally, then the debtors [Alpha] may be forced to liquidate their assets, to the detriment of all stakeholders, including all union employees."
This filing doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention to the coal industry recently, because this has become the standard endgame in Big Coal's playbook.
It's a big part of how the companies guarantee that they can deliver no-risk profits to shareholders and pay off Wall Street lenders, and still manage to pay out millions to their executives in the middle of declaring bankruptcy.
It's a playbook that the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) is familiar with. President Cecil E. Roberts wrote back in August that the Chapter 11 filing "appears to follow the same scripts as others we've seen this year: pay off the big banks and other Wall Street investors at the expense of workers, retirees and their communities."
Company lawyers are complaining that they spent nearly $53 million on health care benefits for union employees last year, and they listed around $872 million in accrued retiree health care obligations to union employees.
That's nearly a billion dollars that Alpha is trying to steal from its workers and retirees.
You see, Wall Street lenders have offered to forgive $500 million of debt in exchange for ownership of certain Alpha mines: But Wall Street just isn't interested if they have to fulfill Alpha's legal obligations to workers.
This isn't a new fight, back in the 1980s, Big Coal and its investors fought hard to get out of their obligations to retirees.