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United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts Hails Trustees' Vote to Admit Horizon Retirees in UMWA 1993 Benefit Plan

date: 
April 13, 2005

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts hailed today's vote by the UMWA 1993 Benefit Plan trustees to admit retirees from Horizon Natural Resources Inc. and their dependants to the 1993 Benefit Plan, which restored full health care benefits to nearly 2,500 people.

"This victory is the first ray of light these good people have seen in months," Roberts said. "Their lives have been needlessly and unjustly turned upside down since last August, and this is a first step towards restoring to them the health care benefits that are rightfully theirs."

In August, 2004, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge terminated the health care benefits for about 5,000 active UMWA members, retirees and dependents at Horizon as part of his ruling that liquidated the company's assets. Some 2,500 retirees and dependents were eligible for coverage through the UMWA 1992 Benefit Fund. Health care benefits for the remaining 2,500 have been paid directly by the UMWA for the last six months, however those benefits will expire on April 30.

"Much more needs to be done before benefits are assured for the long term," Roberts said. "The 1993 Fund is already in a precarious financial position, and adding these beneficiaries will only add to the 1993 Fund's problems. Without quick action by Congress, this year the 1993 Fund will be in serious financial difficulty."

"Congress has the ability to help these people, and there are several ways it can do it," Roberts said. "Which ever way it chooses, Congress must act quickly to do the right thing, the responsible thing, and give these retirees and their dependents the peace of mind they've earned."

"These people worked hard for 30, 40, even 50 years in the mines, putting their lives on the line every day to provide our nation with the energy it needs, and always believing the promise they were given by Harry Truman in 1946 -- reaffirmed by two United States presidents and two acts of Congress -- that they would have health care when they retired," Roberts said. "A single bankruptcy judge ripped that promise away. It's incumbent on Congress to live up to America's promise to these miners, and do it now."

Unlike the CBF and 1992 Benefit Fund, which are included in the Coal Act and have mandatory employer contribution rates set by congressional statute, the 1993 Fund is solely funded by employer contributions negotiated in collective bargaining agreements. Current contribution rates are inadequate to cover benefits due to the skyrocketing cost of health care. The current contract does not expire until December, 2006.

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