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UMWA votes to ratify new agreement with Alpha, spinoff

The United Mine Workers of America voted to ratify an agreementwith Alpha Natural Resources Inc.and its spinoff company, Contura Energy.

"As always happens in bankruptcy situations, Contura Energyand Alpha had orders from the bankruptcy judge that eliminated the previouscontract and stripped away any obligations for these companies to continuepaying for pensions and retiree health care," UMWA International PresidentCecil Roberts said in a release. "We were essentially starting from zeroin negotiating these agreements. Because of the solidarity our members at theseoperations, we were able to preserve virtually every article of the previousagreement other than defined benefit pensions and retiree health care."

The UMWA reached the agreementwith the energy company after Alpha's reorganization plan wasapproved by a U.S.bankruptcy court.

While Alpha did not comment on the recent ratification, at thetime the tentative agreement was reached, the company called it a "milestone" inits restructuring in terms of cost savings, keeping jobs and continuingproduction.

The agreement lasts for the next 4.5 years. The UMWA noted thatthe restructuring plan approved for Alpha included a lump sum of $28.5 millionbeing paid to a voluntary employee benefit association in lieu of Alphamanaging the funds. UMWA will now manage the funds.

"The loss of pension payments and company-paidretiree health care only adds to the critical need to pass pending legislationin Congress to ensure the retirees who mined the coal to energize our nationwill get the retirement security America promised to them," Robertssaid, adding that the funding would not last long. "Time is quicklyrunning out for these and thousands of other retirees who depend on thesebenefits."