West Virginia Law Review

Document Type

Case Comment


The recent ruling of District 29, United Mine Workers v. Royal Coal Co., by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has a dramatic impact on the issue of health and non-pension benefits for retirees of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW). Previously, the Fourth Circuit had reviewed the issue in District 17, United Mine Workers v. Allied Corp., and ruled that, under certain circumstances, the health benefits for retirees do extend beyond the termination of the wage agreement. Although the Allied decision concerned successorship issues and Royal Coal dealt with a party's obligations during the life of the collective bargaining agreement, both decisions will bring more attention to the role of the United Mine Workers of America 1974 Benefit Plan and Trust. The remand in Royal Coal by the appellate court to the district court for the Southern District of West Virginia to determine whether the 1974 Benefit Plan is obligated to provide benefits to the class members when the employer is no longer a signatory to a wage agreement is indicative of the Benefit Plan's increasing significance. In this regard, this article will examine the critical terms utilized by the 1974 Benefit Plan, the questions of successorship and "going out of business," and the impact of the two Fourth Circuit decisions on the sale or transfer of coal mining operations.



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