West Virginia Record

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Retired miners say Justice coal companies owe unpaid benefits

Federal Court

By Chris Dickerson | Aug 19, 2019


BLUEFIELD – Four retired miners and their union say coal companies owned by Gov. Jim Justice owe them unpaid medical benefits.

James E. Graham II, Dennis Adkins, Roger Wriston, David B. Polk and the United Mine Workers of America International Union filed the lawsuit Aug. 15 in U.S. District Court. Justice Energy Co., Keystone Service Industries Inc., Bluestone Coal Corporation, Double-Bonus Coal Co. and Southern Coal Corporation are listed as defendants.

In the 16-page complaint, the plaintiffs say the companies have failed to pay health and prescription costs as promised under a national agreement. They claim the companies have violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).


Justice

The union says these claims haven’t been paid since 2017 when Justice took office as governor. It also says the companies, without advance warning, canceled retiree medical and drug coverage effective July 1 of this year. But, it says partial coverage was restored the following day. They claim similar periodic cancellations and restorations have occurred before.

The complaint lists the specific medical situations faced by each of the four individual plaintiffs.

Graham, who lives in Monroe County, worked for Justice Energy. He had back surgery in 2018 that he says wasn’t paid for by through benefits. He said that also has caused him to delay needed follow-up treatment.

Adkins, who now lives in North Carolina, worked for Keystone Service Industries. He says he’s had to pay for treatment for chronic conditions.

Wriston, who lives in Fayette County, worked for Bluestone Coal. He says he has received “distressing and embarrassing” phone calls for bills that should have been paid by benefits. He says his wife also needs back treatment but hasn’t done so because they are worried the bills won’t be paid.

Polk, who lives in Wyoming County, worked for Double-Bonus Coal. He says he needs medicine for an abnormal heartbeat and high cholesterol. He says he’s had to cancel doctor appointments and not buy medicine because of the failure of the plan.

The plaintiffs say the Justice companies were included in the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 2016, which included medical and prescription benefits for retirees, spouses and dependents. The agreement is good through Dec. 31, 2021.

They seek an injunction to force the defendant companies to resume paying medical and prescription costs for the retirees until the bigger issues are fixed. They also seek compensatory damages and payment for medical and prescription bills already due.

The plaintiffs are represented by UMW attorneys Charles F. Donnelly in Charleston as well as Kevin F. Fagan and Timothy J. Baker in Triangle, Va.

U.S. District Court case number 1:19-cv-00597

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