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Patriot Coal bankruptcy case starts Monday

Jim Salter, Associated Press

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2013, file photo members of the United Mine Workers of America wait to be arrested by police during protest outside the of headquarters of Peabody Energy in St. Louis. The union is promising to have thousands of miners and their supporters rallying in St. Louis next week when Patriot Coal Corp.'s bankruptcy hearing starts Monday, April 29, 2013. Patriot, spun off Peabody in 2007, is seeking drastic cuts in retiree health care benefits. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The United Mine Workers of America union is promising to have thousands of miners and their supporters rallying in St. Louis next week as Patriot Coal Corp.'s bankruptcy hearing goes to court.

St. Louis-based Patriot filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July. The case is scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis and last about a week.

Patriot was spun off from another St. Louis coal company, Peabody Energy Corp., in 2007. Initially profitable, Patriot hit hard times in recent years, the company citing exceptionally soft coal markets, rising costs and "unsustainable legacy liabilities" tied to the spinoff.

As part of its reorganization plan, Patriot seeks drastic cuts in health care benefits to retirees.

Union leaders say Patriot was set up to fail in a deliberate plan to end benefit obligations to retirees. Patriot and Peabody officials deny that claim.

The union has staged several previous rallies, including some in St. Louis, where protesters sat in the street in front of Peabody's corporate headquarters and were arrested in peaceful demonstrations.United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said the Monday rally will be the largest so far, with perhaps 3,000 protesters who will march the five blocks to the federal courthouse, site of the bankruptcy hearing.

"When the bankruptcy court begins hearings on Monday about Patriot's demand for drastic, unnecessary cuts in the standard of living for active and retired miners — they're going to hear from us," Roberts said in a statement.

Messages seeking comment from Patriot on Friday were not immediately returned.

Patriot claims its retiree health liability has ballooned to $1.6 billion. Last month, it proposed creating a trust with a maximum of $300 million from future profit-sharing to fund some level of those benefits, with Patriot making an initial contribution of $15 million.

Patriot CEO Bennett Hatfield has called the moves "necessary for the survival of Patriot and the preservation of more than 4,000 jobs."