Black Lung Association members inquire about pension solution

Source: The Register-Herald

Publishing Date: September 6, 2017

Many thank you’s were extended Wednesday morning from members of the Black Lung Association to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., for her support of the Miners’ Protection Act, which allowed United Mine Workers to keep their health insurance.

But after the pleasantries were exchanged with Capito’s field representative, a fourth generation coal miner asked, “What’s the status of our pension?”

Ricky Coalson, a man who spent 37 and a half of his 60 years underground, said he was glad health care was addressed first.

“I have black lung, heart trouble and back trouble,” Coalson said as the overhead light reflected on his salt and pepper hair. “I take nine pills a day.”

His wife of 41 years, Kathy, also has health concerns.

“She takes about five pills a day. We really didn’t know what we were going to do if we lost coverage.”

The Coal City man is thankful for the peace of mind the Miners’ Protection Act has offered his family. But now, his attention is turned to his pension, as he and his wife are on a fixed income.

He said he’s not greedy by any means, but he wants what was promised to him and others who made sacrifices to help power the nation.

“When I went into the mines, I knew my health would pay the price. But I knew I’d have good benefits and my family could live good.”

His great-grandfather, his grandfather and his father were all coal miners before him. He followed in their footsteps, but he urged his son to take another path.

“He asked me about going into the mines. I told him I’d rather him not. He drives a tractor-trailer.”

Coalson said he and his fellow miners have been told they could see a resolution for their pensions by 2021.

He said they’ll continue working with Capito and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. They’ll also continue calling other senators asking for their support.

“I just ask them to give us what was promised. The president promised it back in the ’50s that we would have hospitalization and pension for doing such dangerous work.”

Without his pension, Coalson said his finances will be thrown for a loop.

“We’ll have to figure out ways to redo it. We’ll make it, don’t get me wrong, but it’ll put us in a bind. We would lose almost $1,100 a month.”

Capito’s field representative Todd Gunter said senators are working on a solution.

“We’ve received a lot of phone calls from UMWA workers in the last three weeks,” Gunter said. “Capito and Manchin are working on that.”

He added, “Health care was a heavy lift, and the pensions are going to be a heavy lift, but I don’t think it’s impossible.”

Manchin introduced the Miners Pension Protection Act in May, which would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer funds in excess of amounts needed to meet obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, but has not yet been brought to a vote.

— Email: and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren