Miners rally for venue change - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Miners rally for venue change

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Chants are a part of rallies. Just like how pain is a part of Eddie Sawyers' life. And if that wasn't enough, his scars remind him.

"It hurts every single day," said Sawyers, a member of the United Mine Workers of America. In 1984, Sawyers broke his back in a mining accident in Boone County. He's been unable to work since then.

As a union member, Sawyer has been able to collect certain medical benefits after his accident. But the future benefits of active and retired coal miners are on the line. For this reason, thousands of UMWA members from across the nation flocked to Charleston to rally Tuesday afternoon.

"The mine workers have been here for 120 years," said Michael Veronis, a miner from Moundsville. "We could possibly lose everything we fought for. My granddad, my uncle, everybody."

Tuesday marked a key hearing in a lawsuit filed by Patriot Coal in July. The coal company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York. But many active and retired members said they want courts in West Virginia to hear the case. They fear a ruling made so far away could cut them and their benefits out of the picture.

"We're not going to stand idly by and watch them steal from our members," said Daniel Kane, the international secretary treasurer of the UMWA. "They decided to pick this fight and we're going to fight it 'til the end."

Patriot has made no mention of whether it would cut benefits, if any at all. But thousands rallied at Haddad Riverfront Park to show their solidarity. Members asked one question repetitively and aloud: What does a judge in New York know about coal mining in West Virginia?

Members then marched to the U.S. Federal courthouse to wait for a response on whether the venue would be changed. No clear decision came Tuesday, so the hearing could continue Wednesday.

13News called Patriot Coal several times today to get its side of the story, but no one returned our calls.