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Union, new owner of Greene County coal mines reach tentative labor pact

| Monday, July 11, 2016, 2:27 p.m.

The United Mine Workers of America reached a tentative labor agreement with the company that is buying the Pennsylvania operations of Alpha Natural Resources, which is reorganizing in bankruptcy.

Union members are set to vote Thursday on the contract with Contura Energy Inc., a company made up of Bristol, Va.-based Alpha's first lien lenders to buy some of its key coal assets.

If approved, the agreement would conclude seven months of negotiations over terms covering about 1,100 active and laid-off union workers in the region, most of them at the Cumberland and closed Emerald mines in Greene County, said Ed Yankovich, UMWA International District 2 vice president.

“Given conditions in the coal market and given the industry being in the shape it is, and given that this company is bankrupt, I am very pleased with what we were able to do with this,” Yankovich said Monday.

Yankovich declined to comment on the terms of the agreement until after it has been presented to union members. A presentation is scheduled Tuesday.

The contract comes less than a week after a judge agreed to Alpha's controversial plan to reorganize. The plan, which requires final court approval, allows the coal producer to keep mining as a private company while Contura takes over operation of some assets. Those assets include Cumberland, as well as mine complexes in Wyoming, West Virginia and Virginia.

Alpha has more than 700 union and nonunion workers at the Cumberland mine and 20 at Emerald, according to the latest data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The Emerald mine was shuttered at the end of last year.

“We are pleased that a tentative settlement with the UMWA could be reached, pending an affirmative majority vote by the union-represented workforce,” Alpha said in a statement. “If approved, this fair and thoughtfully negotiated settlement would signify a major milestone in Alpha's restructuring with regard to cost savings, while providing jobs and keeping production operations running.”

Union members late last month rejected a proposed contract negotiated between the UMWA and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association. That pact would have covered about 4,500 workers at companies including Ohio-based Murray Energy. Their current five-year contract expires at the end of the year.

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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