Originally published in the Loudoun Times-Mirror, April 2, 2013
Rev. R. Don Prange, minister with Lovettsville’s St. James Church, was among those arrested April 1 during a union protest in Charleston, W.Va.
Prange, who has previously lived in the coal producing areas of southwest Virginia, has had a long history of supporting miners and union organizations. In addition to his post in Loudoun, he also serves as director of the Ministries of Economic Justice.
The arrests came when a small group sat down in front of the Patriot Coal headquarters and refused to leave when ordered by police. Prange was detained for approximately three hours and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
Now returned to his home in Winchester, Prange told the Times-Mirror that he sees his activism as an extension of his role as a minister, saying “The primary and transcendent concern of being a faithful minister is a dedication to justice … We’ve just come through the Easter season. Jesus was hung on the cross because he was protesting injustice.”
In addition to Prange, 15 other protesters were arrested for refusing to leave the entrance, including United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts.
Between six to 10,000 supporters, many involved with the miners union, participated in the rally, according to reports from the Charleston Gazette.
The controversy centers over Patriot Coal’s request to a federal bankruptcy judge asking that it be freed from union obligations regarding retiree pensions and level of healthcare coverage.
Patriot has said the release is necessary to maintain employment of existing employees, but critics of the company have claimed that Patriot was spun out of Peabody Energy for the purpose of eliminating these liabilities.
“Peabody, the world’s largest coal producer, has conspired against over 10,000 retired Appalachian miners and 13,000 dependents to deny them pensions and healthcare protection that were earned by those workers,” said Roberts.
Photo credit: Don Prange