ST. LOUIS (AP) - A bankrupt St. Louis-based coal company's push to significantly cut thousands of retirees' health care and pension benefits is in the hands of a judge.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States has until May 29 to decide the matter that last week was argued before her by attorneys for Patriot Coal Corp. and the United Mine Workers of America union. It's not clear how soon any ruling may come.
Patriot's proposed benefits cuts have been the most contentious aspect of its bankruptcy case since the Peabody Energy Corp. spinoff filed for Chapter 11 protection last summer. The company says it would have to spend $1.6 billion to cover retirees' health care costs, and that if that didn't change it might risk liquidation.
The union considers the cuts immoral, drastic and unfair.
St. Louis-based Patriot said in the filing on Thursday that the action is necessary to save more than 4,000 jobs. Patriot also seeks to change wages, benefits and work rules for existing workers in an effort to make the company more competitive.
Union leaders have been anticipating the move for some time, holding protests in St. Louis last month that drew more than 1,000 people. UMWA President Cecil Roberts says the loss of benefits would cause financial ruin and threaten the health for thousands of retirees.
Patriot filed for bankruptcy in July.
Kelly Glossip is suing the Missouri Highway Patrol for denying benefits designed for the surviving spouse of a slain public safety official. His partner, Dennis Engelhard, was hit and killed by a vehicle while investigating an accident in 2009.
The Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday, with Glossip's attorney arguing that survival benefits should not be denied on the basis of sexual orientation. The state says the benefits are intended for spouses and the men's relationship does not fall into that classification.
The court did not rule on the case and offered no timetable for a decision.