ST. LOUIS (AP) — Patriot Coal Corp. got a bankruptcy judge's go-ahead Tuesday to enter into a new labor agreement with the nation's biggest miners' union, ending a long, acrimonious dispute the company had worried would push into liquidation.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States granted St. Louis-based Patriot's request to put in place the collective bargaining deal ratified by some 85 percent of United Mine Workers of America members who cast ballots on the proposal last Friday. Some 1,800 current or laid-off Patriot workers in West Virginia and Kentucky were eligible to vote.
The settlement restores most wage cuts Patriot had sought as part of its efforts to emerge from bankruptcy protection. Pension benefits for thousands of retirees also will be maintained, and active employees will continue earning pension credit as part of the deal Patriot said will save $130 million a year over the next several years.
Cecil Roberts, the union's national president, celebrated Tuesday's development involving the settlement he said "we worked long and hard to reach with Patriot Coal." Those talks intensified after July 1, when Patriot enacted cuts Surratt-States ruled in May the company could impose in abandoning its collective-bargaining agreements with the union.
"The terms and conditions of this settlement are a significant improvement over the company's original proposals, while still giving Patriot the stability and certainty it needs to move forward," Roberts added in a statement. "There is still a long way to go, however, before retired mine workers receive all of the health care benefits they earned during their years in the mines."
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