Westmoreland Coal Company who owns Dakota Westmoreland Beulah Mine is battling in bankruptcy court, and it could have a huge effect on United Mine Workers of America’s pension benefits.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that “Westmoreland Coal Co. has received permission to end retiree benefits and scrap its union contracts with workers at two of its mines after the company said it needed to make dramatic cuts to its labor costs to survive bankruptcy.”
Their article further states that “Judge David R. Jones of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston on Friday granted Westmoreland’s requests to terminate ongoing medical obligations for its retirees and reject collective-bargaining agreements at mines in Wyoming and North Dakota.”
The judge is still encouraging both sides to come to the table in hopes of reaching a potential settlement over the weekend.
The Beulah Mine originally opened in 1963, it currently produces nearly 3 million tons of lignite annually.
In federal court documents, several letters from Beulah Mine workers were submitted to support the UMWA argument. Worker letters say employees of the mine take less pay than other mines in the area, and that this is yet another lie by the company to their employees.
Here’s a portion of two different letters submitted to the Judge from workers in Beulah:
“When an employee counts on that pension being part of his retirement. then it gets taken away is just very disturbing with an emotional effect. Am I going to have enough when i retire and now that’s all that’s on my mind right now. As a current employee at the Beulah Mine I hope everyday does get better and that we are able to keep on going amongst other stress’s, we try to keep our spirits up and being proud of who we are and what we do.”
“It is very disheartening to know what Westmoreland has promised me in a pension they are trying to take away. This pension was not just given to me, I have earned it. I and the other workers at the Beulah mine have taken less money in wages over the years for the pension that Westmoreland has promised us. I make between $5 and $7 per hour less than people at the surrounding mines. Making less in wages and having a pension 1 could count on. I have planned on this money being there for my retirement. It is not right or even fair for Westmoreland to take this away from me.”
Some workers said they got a recent letter saying that pension benefits would be frozen March 10.
The Union argued in the Houston courtroom during the trial this week that, “The Notices have sparked an upswell of panic, anger, and unrest in union employees, who have inundated the UMWA with letters of protest and outrage. The unilateral termination of benefits and resulting labor unrest makes a potential labor strike even more likely.”
Westmoreland which is based out of Colorado says they are $1.4 B in debt. The company is working with a group of lenders to restructure the debt. “Westmoreland Coal Co. is seeking to break two union contracts and terminate retiree benefits totaling an estimated $329 million, saying dramatic cuts to its labor costs are needed in order to sell its coal mines to lenders and avoid liquidation,” says the Wall Street Journal.
The Wall Street Journal article also goes on to say that “Lenders have agreed to pay $6 million to fund retiree benefits for a year. Senate Democrats introduced a bill last month that would ensure that workers’ benefits were backstopped by a federal fund for coal employees.”
Westmoreland has coal mines in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas. It also has a coal-fire power plant in North Carolina.