Bankruptcy hearing underway on coal company's bid to cut pension, health benefits for workers

ST. LOUIS – A bankruptcy hearing is underway over a coal company’s quest to significantly cut health care and pension benefits for its union workers, who are protesting the move.

The legal tussle is being argued this week in St. Louis between Patriot Coal Corp. and the United Mine Workers of America. And it may be the most contentious issue tied to Patriot’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The hearing could last through Friday.

Patriot was spun off from Peabody Energy Corp. in 2007. Patriot hit hard times in recent years, with the company citing exceptionally soft coal markets, rising costs and “unsustainable legacy liabilities” tied to the spinoff.

The union says Patriot was set up to fail in a deliberate plan to end benefit obligations to retirees. Patriot and Peabody deny that claim.