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Alpha seeks court OK to break UMW contract

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lawyers for Alpha Natural Resources are asking a federal bankruptcy judge to allow the company to break its contract with the United Mine Workers union as part of an effort to reorganize its finances and survive the ongoing decline in the nation’s coal industry.

On Monday, Alpha filed a petition with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond asking to be able to modify the company’s obligations for retiree health care benefits. The company asked for a hearing to be held April 12 to address the matter.

Alpha said it needs to continue to slash costs to survive what it called “the historic collapse of the domestic coal industry,” citing “a confluence of macroeconomic headwinds, regulatory obstacles, and competitive pressures” that have forced numerous bankruptcies and cost thousands of miners their jobs.

Company lawyers complained that they spent nearly $53 million on health care benefits for union employees last year and spent an average of 34 percent more on each union employee than each non-union employee…

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