CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The president and CEO of Patriot Coal sent his "fellow employees" a letter May 30, a day after U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy A. Surratt-States in Missouri issued her ruling about the company's bankruptcy filing.Surratt-States ruled that Patriot, which filed for bankruptcy in July 2012, could throw out contracts it previously negotiated with the United Mine Workers of America and cut health care benefits for workers and retirees.President and CEO Bennett K. Hatfield's letter focused on his coal company's planned "efforts to reorganize and to emerge from bankruptcy.... "Our management team will be focused on our reorganization plan, which will map out how we intend to exit from bankruptcy. "If we are able to promptly implement the revised labor agreements and retiree benefit changes, we are targeting emergence from bankruptcy as early as late 2013," Hatfield wrote.Phil Smith, a UMWA spokesman, said Friday that the union had no comment on Hatfield's letter.Just hours after Surratt-States released her ruling May 29, UMWA President Cecil Roberts said the union would appeal the ruling to the U.S. District Court.
"Cecil's decision [to appeal the ruling] is our response" to Hatfield's comments, Smith said Friday.Roberts previously said, "As often happens under American bankruptcy law, 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."Mentioning a video he sent to Patriot Coal employees, Hatfield wrote, "It is important to understand that our proposal to the UMWA seeks to adjust wages, benefits and work rules to a level consistent with the regional labor market."Additionally, we are not proposing to discontinue medical benefits for current retirees, but rather to allow for our continued healthcare coverage through a trust to be funded by a substantial ownership state in the new reorganized company, as well as certain profit-sharing and royalty provisions," Hatfield wrote."In closing, I ask for your continued dedication to a safe and productive workplace. And I thank you for your commitment, support and personal sacrifices during these difficult times," Hatfield stated.Roberts previously said the union would continue to negotiate with Patriot, although there has also been some discussion of a possible strike."We remain willing to take painful steps to help Patriot get through the rough period it faces over the next couple of years," Roberts previously stated. "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."