ST. LOUIS (AP) — Top executives of a bankrupt coal producer and the nation's biggest miner's union are trading public jabs over bargaining meant to stave off a strike against a company given a court's go-ahead to slash health care and pensionbenefits to thousands of workers and retirees.

The public feuding resurfaced Wednesday, when the United Mine Workers of America accused Patriot Coal Corp. of walking out of negotiations meant to mitigate the bankruptcy judge's May 29 decision allowing Patriot to impose wage and benefit cuts by abandoning its collective-bargaining agreements.

Patriot's chief executive fired back hours later, denying the company broke off talks it noted it was under no legal obligation to continue and simply recessed to mull financial implications of the union's demands that Patriot roll back most of the cost relief the bankruptcy judge approved. Accusing the union of "theatrics," Ben Hatfield added "it remains the assessment of Patriot management that agreeing to the UMWA's demands would sacrifice any chance of making the company viable."

During an April hearing over Patriot's cost-cutting, an attorney for the union through its attorney threatened a strike if the court's ruling didn't go organized labor's way. On Wednesday, the union's president, Cecil Roberts, said he planned to gauge, likely at the end of this month, his membership's receptiveness to a walkout

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