Group objecting to Alpha Natural Resources trying to eliminate retiree benefits

Coal operator Alpha Natural Resources has been seeking to eliminate health and other non-pension benefits for more than 4,500 non-union retirees.

Wednesday afternoon, a group of former employees led by the company's founder, Michael J. Quillen, filed an objection. (See documents in links.)

Bristol, Virginia-based Alpha said in a recent bankruptcy court filing that the benefits cost it about $2.7 million in 2014 and represent a liability of about $125 million.

The benefits include life insurance and subsidies to reimburse retirees for buying medical coverage through health care exchanges.

If approved, Alpha says the elimination of benefits would be effective Dec. 31.

A hearing on the company's motion is set for Nov. 17 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Virginia.

Quillen -- Alpha's founder, former chairman and CEO -- released this statement, Wednesday: "While I understand the challenges that Alpha Natural Resources has faced in recent years, to suddenly try to eliminate retiree health benefits of thousands of families goes against the values the company was built on. We made a pledge to our employees to provide a safe place to work and benefits that would extend beyond their years of employment. It's imperative for the company to honor that pledge. I sincerely want to see the company survive, strengthen and take care of existing employees while recognizing the contribution of those who helped grow the company and the companies acquired since 2002."

Alpha voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Aug. 3, seeking a $692 million bankruptcy loan.

The company has coal operations in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

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