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Retired Consol Coal Miners Protest Loss of Health Care Benefits

Retired coal miners will gather around Consol Energy Center Monday to protest the revocation of health benefits for more than 1,200 retired workers.

In December 2013 Consol sold five coal mines to Murry Energy. With the sale Murry acquired $2.1 billion in employee retirement benefits, but only committed to paying for one year of health care. Now both companies are refusing to honor the benefits.

Both companies have firm legal standings admits Robert Long, a representative for Consol Retirees United. He says the wording of the contract allowed Consol to change the benefits at any time.

“If you work 35-40 years for a company and have the exposure to those risks [in the mines], and then to retire under the given plans that they set forth and then they terminate your benefits, I think that is totally unjustified and more than anything else it’s just socially irresponsible for the company to act in that fashion,” said Long.

While they were working for the company workers had to pay a premium of $300-$400 a month for health insurance, now retirees are now paying on average about $1,300 a month for independent plans.

Long says that they chose this venue for the protest because it showed how Consol was willing to pay millions for naming rights, but not for their workers.

“Being at the Penguins’ arena is pretty fit I think in that Consol has their name up on the building, but they sure don’t advertise the fact that they’ve terminated the health care benefits of over 1,200 retirees,” said Long.

Most of the workers affected are nonunionized and were supervisors in the mines.

The retirees are asking that Consol honor some of the benefits by providing health care for the workers that retired early and were promised health care until Medicare benefits start at 65. Then they would like for Consol to provide a stipend for worker and spouse 0f $2,000 per year to help pay for supplemental insurance. Long says they have written to the board 5 times with no response.

Consol Retirees United will continue to protest. On April 30 they plan to stand outside the Consol Headquarters, and on May 6 they’ll take to a shareholders meeting were some retirees still hold stock.

Consol issued a statement in response:

“CONSOL Energy is in the midst of a transformative period of time as we modernize our company and seek to remain competitive for the long term in a rapidly evolving energy industry. Such benefit changes, which affect both retirees and active employees alike, are but one element of a broad effort as we position CONSOL Energy for continued success in the future. While we respect everyone’s right to protest peacefully, the reality is that many diverse organizations continue to alter post-retirement benefits, joining a growing trend of companies and organizations aligning their businesses with the direction of public policy toward nationalized health care.”

Jess was accepted as a WESA fellow in the news department in January 2014. The Erie, PA native attends Duquesne University where she has a double major--broadcast journalism and political science. Following her anticipated graduation in May 2015, she plans to enter law school or begin a career in broadcast journalism.