GILLETTE -- Three protesters were arrested Monday by Gillette Police at a meeting of Peabody Energy shareholders at Gillette College on Monday, according to an activist group affiliated with the protesters.
One of the protesters, Fern MacDougal, would be charged with trespassing, according to campus police. She was climbing down from hanging an anti-Peabody banner in rafters at the entrance to the college building when she was arrested.
Two other protesters, Leslie Glustrom and an unidentified man, were stopped by police in the parking lot and handcuffed after failing to heed at least one warning not to hold a banner stating "Peabody Abandons Miners" in a particular fenced area, said Arielle Klagsbrun of the group Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, in an emailed news release. They verbally protested with anti-Peabody slogans as they were taken away.
MacDougal's banner read: "Peabody Attacks: Pensions, Diné Lands, Climate." Diné is the word Navajo people to describe their tribe and the banner likely refers to Peabody's Black Mesa mining operations in Navajo and Hopi country in northeastern Arizona.
The three were among approximately 30 protesters from several groups, both from Wyoming and other states around the country, gathered in front of the college, the site chosen by Peabody Energy for its annual stockholders meeting.
Those protesting the company included a contingent of about 20 active and retired members of United Mine Workers of America. The miners for the second time in five days alleged that a company with major Wyoming operations had cost thousands of workers their health care and pension accounts.
The same group protested at an Arch Coal shareholder meeting Thursday in Wright. The union has said Arch and Peabody are responsible for the failure of Patriot Coal, a company which amassed some properties of both companies before going bankrupt, costing thousands their benefits.
Peabody representatives told the Star-Tribune prior to the meeting that what the miners allege isn’t the responsibility of their company.
“The simple fact is that Patriot Coal has been an individual company for five years,” said Vic Svec, company senior vice president for investor relations and corporate communications. “This is largely a matter between the UWMA and Patriot Coal, and it will be decided in bankruptcy court, not the court of public opinion.”
Joining the miners protesting in Wyoming were members of the Wyoming-based Powder River Basin Resource Council, which has actively asked that more care be taken be ensure mines are properly reclaimed and that water be protected. The group also recently signed its name to a request for a moratorium new Powder River Basin coal mining, sent earlier this month to the Department of the Interior.
Many protesters entered the meeting, but some who didn’t attend were redirected to a “free-speech zone,” a fenced-off area about 100 yards from Peabody’s registration tent. Some who entered the meeting were sent to an “overflow” area, a room on a different floor than the main meeting.
A Peabody official told the Star-Tribune that the meeting was full, and the room was being used to “accommodate all our shareholders.” The company had expected between 50 and 100 people to attend.
Members of the press were not allowed to attend the meeting.
Miners in Gillette protested mere hours after 6,000 others gathered some 1,100 miles away in St. Louis, home of both Arch and Peabody. The larger group gathered in front of the federal building where Patriot’s bankruptcy proceedings were underway. Sixteen were arrested.
Some have said Peabody chose Gillette to host the meeting as a ploy to avoid such protests, but the company has said it wants to show off its largest properties, including the North Antelope Rochelle mine.
Council organizer Shannon Anderson said before the meeting that her group wanted to show support for other protesters present.
“We just thought it was important to be here in solidarity with others impacted by Peabody’s mining operations,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of the same concerns as them."
Anderson and several miners planned to attend the meetings and ask questions relating to the company’s practices.
“We’re here today because we think what’s happening to these mine workers is standard practice to Peabody,” said Arielle Klagsbrun, a representative of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment. Klagsburn’s group has a history of protesting Peabody and Arch events in St. Louis.
Svec said before the meeting that company representatives planned to tell shareholders of the upside of potential plans to export coal around the globe.
“This country needs to re-emerge as a great nation and great exporter,” he said in an interview. “Coal represents a significant way to do that.”
Svec added that shareholders attending the meeting would hear that power generators are switching to natural gas less now than they did last year, when the abysmal price of natural gas led some to switch away from coal. Some in the industry have blamed the fuel switch for shrinking coal demand.
When asked about the protests, Svec said Peabody had no obligations to the group choosing to gather.
“It’s been a great American tradition that shareholders meetings attract those who demonstrate for a variety of causes,” he said. “We acknowledge the tradition of freedom of speech, but we point out that this meeting is devoted to the business of the company, not general activism.”