UMWA President Arrested at CONSOL Energy Rally, Pennsylvania
Published: May 18, 2017 |
The president of the United Mine Workers of America union was arrested for trespassing on CONSOL Energy property in Southpointe following a protest over the company’s handling of union retirees’ health-care benefits.
About 1,500 UMWA members descended on CONSOL’s headquarters in Southpointe Wednesday morning to protest what the union said are recent attempts by the energy company to reduce health-care benefits for its union retirees and threaten potential funding for the pensions of thousands of retired coal miners and widows.
Cecil Roberts was arrested by Cecil Township police at the conclusion of the rally after he trespassed on private property owned by CONSOL.
Earlier, Roberts, who was the featured speaker at a rally on a blocked-off portion of Town Center Boulevard in front of CONSOL headquarters, told the group of active and retired miners that the union worked for five years, spending $31 million, to protect their retirement under the Miners Protection Act, which he said affects 22,600 members. He added that the health-care benefit amounts to $2 million over the next 10 years.
Gesturing toward the CONSOL headquarters building, he said, “These people right here tried to cut off 4,000 retirees and their families’ health care.”
Roberts praised the union members’ legacy of fighting for their benefits.
“You were the shock troops for John L. Lewis, and you’re the shock troops for Cecil Roberts,” he said, drawing applause. “I’m never going to stop until you’ve got the pension you deserve.”
Earl Osborne, a retired UMWA miner who worked for 30 years for Westmoreland Coal Co. in southwestern Virginia, summed up the sentiments of others who attended the rally to protect their health-care benefits.
“It’s mine, I worked for it, and they ain’t going to take it,” he said.
Following Roberts’ remarks, the group, chanting “UMWA, UMWA,” walked peacefully a short distance from Town Center Boulevard down a private drive bordering the headquarters until it reached several Cecil Township police officers blocking the entrance to the company’s property.
Informed that they were on company property, members of the group moved back to where they had started and began boarding the charter buses that had brought them to the rally.
But Roberts and retired UMWA official Richard Fink, who also is a former Armstrong County commissioner, remained and sat down on the road in front of the police.
They were warned twice by police that they were trespassing on company property and were asked to leave.
When the two refused, they were arrested for trespassing, handcuffed and led away.
The union claims CONSOL began taking action early last year aimed at avoiding its obligations under its collective bargaining agreement with the UMWA — the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement — by providing cash payments in lieu of comprehensive retiree benefits for Medicare-eligible beneficiaries 65 and older, and increasing costs for all beneficiaries.
The UMWA said the company also used “reservation of rights” language that it said would allow the company to terminate all benefits and payments for any reason, at any time.
According to the union, about 2,550 retired miners and dependents would have been affected by CONSOL’s action.
The UMWA initiated a grievance Nov. 1, requesting affirmation of CONSOL’s obligation to provide beneficiaries lifetime benefits under the 2011 NBCWA plan. In late December, the union and several CONSOL retirees from two West Virginia counties filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in West Virginia, seeking an injunction to stop the company from making any changes to its retiree health plan, pending adjudication of the grievance. CONSOL countered by filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Western Pennsylvania seeking a declaration that it is not required to submit to arbitration of the grievance.
On Jan. 3, it sent a letter to plaintiffs and plan beneficiaries stating that the plan and the group health insurance would be terminated effective March 31.
On March 17, the West Virginia court granted the injunction, prohibiting CONSOL from terminating or changing its retiree health-care plan until the grievance is decided. CONSOL has appealed the court’s decision, which is pending and is not expected to be resolved prior to a decision on the grievance.
The company said earlier this year it would like to sell the remainder of its coal assets by the end of this year. The union says it wants to ensure its miners’ retiree health-care benefits are secure.
Following Wednesday’s rally, CONSOL issued the following statement:
“It’s puzzling that the UMWA chose to rally at CONSOL Energy headquarters as we are one of only a few companies in the industry that has and continues to meet its obligations without resorting to the bankruptcy courts. While CONSOL Energy made the necessary decisions to effectively weather the industry downturn, which was caused in large part by the policies of the UMWA-supported Obama administration, the union stood idly by as company after company whose employees they represented filed for bankruptcy, shedding their liabilities and deepening the financial crisis their active members and retirees now face. While the UMWA grandstands and looks to distract from their own poor decisions, CONSOL Energy will continue to work to always do the right things for its employees and to keep the company strong.”
Source: (May 17, 2017) Observer-Reporter
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