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Judge sides with bankrupt Patriot in companys push to cut worker health

Judge sides with bankrupt Patriot in company’s push to cut worker health care, pension AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email by Jim Suhr, The Associated Press Posted May 29, 2013 3:57 pm MDT ST. LOUIS – A bankrupt coal producer got a judge’s go-ahead Wednesday to significantly cut health care and pension benefits to thousands of workers and retirees, claiming victory over a miners’ union that swiftly condemned the ruling it pledges to appeal.U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States’ 102-page ruling favouring St. Louis-based Patriot Coal dashed the nation’s biggest coal miners’ union’s hopes of scuttling the company’s quest to impose wage and benefit cuts by walking away from its collective-bargaining agreements.Surratt-States ultimately concluded the cost-cutting proposals were legal, perhaps unavoidable, for Patriot, which sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last summer to address labour obligations it insisted have grown unsustainable.“Unions generally try to bargain for the best deal for their members,” the judge wrote. “However, there is likely some responsibility to be absorbed for demanding benefits that the employer cannot realistically fund in perpetuity, particularly given the availability of sophisticated actuarial analysts and cost trend experts.”The union, through its attorney during a recent weeklong St. Louis hearing over Patriot’s cost-cutting, had threatened a strike if Surratt-States’ decision didn’t go organized labour’s way. The union steered clear Wednesday of walkout talk, saying it would continue arguing during protests that Patriot was set up to fail when spun off. The union said that negotiations would continue and that it would appeal Surratt-States’ ruling.“We have long acknowledged that Patriot is in trouble,” Cecil Roberts, the union’s president, said in a statement. “We remain willing to take painful steps to help Patriot get through the rough period it faces over the next couple of years. But if we’re going to share in that pain, then we have every right to share in the company’s gain when it becomes profitable again.”“As often happens under American bankruptcy law,” Roberts added, “the short-term interests of the company are valued more than the dedication and sacrifice of the workers, who actually produce the profits that make a company successful.”Patriot’s proposed cuts have been the most contentious aspect since the Peabody Energy Corp. spinoff filed for bankruptcy. The company said it would have to spend $1.6 billion to cover the health care costs, putting it at risk of liquidation.Bennett Hatfield, Patriot’s president and CEO, called the ruling “a major step forward” for the company. But he said bargaining with the union would press on, insisting “we continue to believe that a consensual resolution is the best possible outcome for all parties.”While looking to cease pension contributions, Patriot has proposed creating a trust with up to $300 million from future profit-sharing to fund some level of health benefits. Patriot also would give the union a 35 per cent equity stake in the company once it emerges from bankruptcy.Prospects of a walkout would mirror the labour dispute involving the bankruptcy of Hostess Brands Inc. The Irving, Texas-based maker of Wonder Bread, Twinkies and other baked goods last year filed for Chapter 11 protection and later announced it was going out of business and liquidating after a nationwide strike by its bakers union crippled operations.In Patriot’s case, Hatfield has called the moves necessary for the coal company’s survival and the preservation of more than 4,000 jobs, the bulk of them in Kentucky and West Virginia.During first three months of this year, the company reported a net loss of $115.9 million, compared with a loss of $75.3 million over the same time last year.Union leaders contend Patriot was saddled with unsustainable pension and long-term health care obligations when Peabody jettisoned it as a separate company in 2007, essentially setting it up to fail.Peabody disputes that. It has said Patriot “was highly successful following its launch more than five years ago” but caught up in the industry undertow that affected all coal producers, including a global financial crisis, development of low-cost shale gas that cut demand for coal and burdensome federal regulation.Wednesday’s ruling did nothing to resolve that debate.“Was Debtor Patriot Coal Corp. created to fail? Maybe not. Maybe,” the judge wrote. “Maybe the executive team involved at (Patriot’s) inception thought the liabilities were manageable and thus the reality of Debtors’ bankruptcy was more attributed to unwarranted optimism about future prospects.”“The legacy of unfunded retiree medical benefits,” she added, “was itself the result of Congressional inaction, a changing manufacturing landscape, and the benign neglect and false hopes of companies and unions alike.” read more

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No 10 Texas women top Michigan 6952 at Gulf Coast Showcase

ESTERO, Fla. — Jatarie White scored 16 points and No. 10 Texas defeated Michigan 69-52 on Saturday night in the semifinals of the Gulf Coast Showcase.Audrey Warren scored a career-high 15 points and Sug Sutton finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Longhorns (5-0), who play Fordham Sunday in the tournament championship game. Michigan (4-1) will meet Washington for third place in the eight-team event.A 19-0 first-quarter run set the tone for Texas, which led 39-14 at the half and coasted from there.Deja Church scored 12 points for the Wolverines, and Amy Dilk added 10. Michigan shot 17 per cent in the first half and 29 per cent for the game.Texas moved Warren into the starting lineup in the place of Lashann Higgs, who left Friday’s 56-55 win over Quinnipiac in the first half with a knee injury. Warren — the hero of Friday’s victory after hitting what became the game-winning jumper with just under a minute left — stayed hot Saturday, making six of her nine shots.Michigan missed 23 of 24 shots in one first-half stretch, including 16 straight over a six-minute stretch of the first quarter. The deficit got to 50-24 midway through the third quarter before the Wolverines went on a small run, peeling off nine straight points to get a bit of momentum.Kayla Robbins’ layup with 7:42 left got Michigan within 54-41, but the comeback bid essentially ended there. Warren connected on a 3-pointer, Sutton added a three-point play on the next possession and Texas’ lead was back to 19.BIG PICTUREMichigan: The Wolverines had barely trailed in any of their first four games this season, facing deficits for less than two minutes out of a possible 160 minutes entering Saturday. They ran out to a 6-2 lead over Texas — and then went ice-cold.Texas: The Longhorns are 5-0 for the fifth time in seven seasons under coach Karen Aston. They’ve also won nine consecutive games played in Florida, with the last Texas loss in the Sunshine State coming 17 seasons ago.OTHER MATCHUPSSunday has the final four games of the event on tap, starting with Quinnipiac facing Ball State for seventh place, followed by Duke meeting No. 21 Missouri for fifth place. The Michigan-Washington game will be the third game up Sunday, and then Texas and Fordham play for the title.UP NEXTMichigan: Faces Washington on Sunday.Texas: Faces Fordham on Sunday.___More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25The Associated Press read more