A federal bankruptcy judge ruled that Westmoreland Coal Company can back out of its collective bargaining agreements with current workers and retirees as soon as Feb. 28, putting pensions and health benefits for thousands of people at risk.
Although Central Appalachian coal production has seen a slight rebound since 2016, it may be short-lived due to export and transportation costs. Additionally, two coal companies filed for bankruptcy last fall.
Westmoreland Coal’s bankruptcy puts health benefits for 500 Virginians and pensions for 7,000 former Virginia miners in jeopardy. A bill proposed in the Senate would protect these benefits — and also shore up the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.
In October 2018, the oldest coal company in the United States filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. While now largely operating in the western United States, Westmoreland has many ties to Southwest Virginia.
Alpha Natural Resources won approval to emerge from bankruptcy. The plan rests on the transfer of Alpha’s core coal assets to new company, Contura Energy, Inc.
Three major U.S. coal companies have filed bankruptcy and are grappling with their liabilities to restore sites after mining and their obligations to employees, past and present.