Business

Coal firm's bankruptcy hearing starts

ST. LOUIS — A long-awaited bankruptcy hearing began Monday in which a St. Louis-based coal company insists it must cut thousands of retirees' health care and pension benefits significantly or risk liquidation — a claim its miners union rejects.

Patriot Coal Corp.'s proposed benefits cuts have been the most contentious aspect of its bankruptcy case since it filed for Chapter 11 protection last summer, when it estimated it would have to spend $1.6 billion to cover retirees' health care costs.

The United Mine Workers of America union, after weeks of protests in states where Patriot and its former corporate parent Peabody Energy Corp. have operations, has labeled the proposed benefits cuts immoral, drastic and unfair. Miners, consumers and local religious leaders, picketed again Monday near Peabody's downtown St. Louis headquarters, and police said more than a dozen of them were arrested.

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