Bankruptcy hearing under way on coal company's bid to cut pension

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A long-awaited bankruptcy hearing for Patriot Coal has begun, with retirees' health care and pension benefits at stake.

Patriot insists it must significantly cut benefits for thousands of retirees or risk liquidation - a claim the union strongly rejects. Patriot Coal estimates retiree health costs will cost it $1.6 billion.

The United Mine Workers of America calls the proposed benefits cuts immoral, drastic and unfair. Miners, along with consumers and local religious leaders, picketed yesterday near the headquarters of Patriot's former corporate parent, Peabody Energy, in downtown St. Louis. Police said more than a dozen people were arrested.

Last month, Patriot proposed creating a trust with a maximum of $300 million from future profit-sharing to fund some level of health benefits. Seeking to modify its collective bargaining agreements, Patriot also would give the union a 35 percent equity stake in the company once it emerges from bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy hearing could last through Friday.

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