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W.Va. Miners Picket Patriot Hearing in Mo.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - About 175 current and former West Virginia coal miners are among those picketing in St. Louis on Tuesday as the United Mine Workers of America tries to save pension and health care benefits for retirees and widows from Patriot Coal Corp’s bankruptcy.

Miners from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio also planned to join the protest at the federal building where a hearing will be held, and near the headquarters of another company the union blames for Patriot’s problems, Peabody Energy.

UMWA spokesman Phil Smith said Patriot’s bankruptcy affects more than 10,000 retirees and 10,000 dependents, mostly in those states.

Peabody Protest

Ten United Mine Workers sat down at Peabody Coal Headquarters. Those protestors were arrested. (KMOX/Kevin Killeen)

The company calls its pension and health care programs “unsustainable” legacies.

A judge moved Patriot’s case from New York City to St. Louis in November. An $802 million financing package is allowing Patriot to continue operating while it restructures.

The Charleston Daily Mail says the UMWA posted billboard and TV ads in St. Louis to build support ahead of Tuesday’s hearing.

The union is suing Peabody and Arch Coal in southern West Virginia, claiming they set Patriot up to fail so it would have to shed the pension and health-care benefits. Peabody spun off Patriot in November 2007, and Patriot later acquired mines that Arch spun off into Magnum Coal.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Charleston argues they are still responsible for those benefits under the federal Employee Retirement and Income Securities Act. Union President Cecil Roberts contends Peabody and Arch knew that the cyclical nature of the industry would inevitably lead to Patriot’s inability to pay for those liabilities.

All three coal companies are based in St. Louis.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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