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More miners are crying foul over $1.4 million per quarter in bonuses proposed to Westmoreland Coal Company mid-level managers, all while union pensions and benefits are in doubt.

The International Union of Operators and Engineers objected to the Westmoreland’s “valued employee program,” in which the coal company’s mid-level employees received retention bonuses to stay with the company through bankruptcy.

The objection, filed Monday in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Texas, faults Westmoreland for offering bonuses while trying to reduce the benefits and protections previously promised to miners. The company offered no proof that the bonuses help Westmoreland post-bankruptcy, union attorneys argued.

The same day, Westmoreland revealed that it would not be covering the pensions of miners in several states, including Montana and Wyoming.

Westmoreland “makes no effort to explain how spending an additional $1.4 million per quarter on select management employees will make it more certain that it will emerge from the proceedings as a going concern,” wrote Stephen Curtice, attorney for miners of IUOE, Local 953 in New Mexico.

The objection was the first time IUOE members have challenged Westmoreland’s bankruptcy terms. The union also has a chapter in Montana, which hasn’t gotten involved. IUOE Local 400, which represents Montana workers at the Absaloka, Rosebud and Savage mines, did not respond to interview requests made Friday and Tuesday.

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Most of the concerns about the pensions and benefits previously guaranteed to miners by the company have been brought by the United Mine Workers who represent Westmoreland employees in Wyoming and Virginia.

Monday Westmoreland disclosed it did not plan to cover $334.5 million in post-retirement medical benefits, $21.8 million in Black Lung compensation and $41.7 million in pension obligations, including the pensions fund for Colstrip and Roesbud miners.

Westmorland suggested the government-created Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation would be a possible source of pension money for the miners.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.