Fighting for you in Washington, D.C.
The UMWA is engaged in the nation’s capital on behalf of our members, their families and their communities. We’re fighting to preserve health care and pension benefits for retired UMWA members in the coal industry; for safe, secure jobs for all our members; for a sensible energy policy that recognizes the central role coal can and will continue to play in power generation for decades to come; for quality health care for all Americans and especially retirees; for the protection of Social Security and Medicare for current and future retirees; and for strong protections for workers’ rights on the job.
Here are some of the things we are working on in Washington:
Congress creates Joint Select Committee on Multi-Employer Pensions
Committee’s goal is to develop legislative solutions to pension plans’ funding issues
As part of the comprehensive Bipartisan Budget Act passed on February 9, Congress did not provide any funding to secure the pensions of retired miners and widows, or hundreds of thousands of other retirees across America. The issue was raised repeatedly in the budget negotiations, however the majority party would not agree to any level of funding to solve this problem at this time.
Instead, congressional leaders agreed to create a Joint Select Committee on Multi-employer Pensions, to address the looming insolvency of multi-employer plans like the UMWA’s 1974 Pension Fund. Committee members are:
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.) Co-Chair Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) Co-Chair
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Oh.) Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)
Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Ida.) Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.)
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)
Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.)
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.)
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.)
Here’s how the Committee will work:
- Committee members must be selected by February 23, and the Committee must hold its first meeting by March 12.
- The committee is required to make a report to Congress by the last week of November, 2018. If there is an agreement to take action, the Committee will draft and submit legislative language as part of that report.
- Agreement to move forward will require at least five Democrats and five Republicans. Any bill they propose will go before the relevant committees in the House and the Senate, where it cannot be amended or voted down. The bills will get expedited votes in both chambers. There will be no amendments allowed.
- The Committee will hold at least 5 meetings, of which at least three must be public hearings. The Committee is encouraged to hold at least one field hearing away from Washington, D.C.
Check back here for more information, we will keep this page updated as events occur.
The American Miners Pension (AMP) Act
During recent Congresses, strong bipartisan legislation has been introduced to address the pension crisis facing America’s mine workers. The Miners Protection Act achieved bipartisan, bicameral support bringing the pension crisis to the forefront of Congressional attention. Indeed, the Miners Protection Act – including the language preserving pensions – was approved by the Senate Finance Committee in Sept., 2016.
As other multi-employer pension plans are approaching insolvency, pension reform has taken an even greater and urgent importance. Recognizing these dynamics facing other multi-employer plan and lack of Congressional action, the need for an urgent legislative solution is apparent. The UMWA has worked with other stakeholders regarding possible solutions to the larger multi-employer pension crisis that are being discussed for introduction during the 115th Congress. All parties agree that an important component of that is addressing the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan issues head-on.
Protecting 1974 Pension Plan Beneficiaries
In recent months, discussions about ways to address troubled multiemployer pensions plans have focused on developing an emergency loan program to put plans on more secure financial footing. Such a loan program would allow the UMWA and other troubled plans to avoid insolvency and keep the PBGC from becoming responsible for those plans, thus relieving the looming insolvency of the PBGC itself. The American Miners Pension Act specifically addresses the 1974 Pension Plan, building from the Miners Protection Act and incorporating the loan concept. The legislation would protect the pensions of 87,000 current beneficiaries and 20,000 more who have vested for their pensions but have not yet begun drawing them.
Specifically the legislation would:
- Include a provision from the original Miners Protection Act allowing transfers of excess funds in the Abandoned Mine Land program to the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan.
- Direct the Treasury Department to loan the 1974 UMWA Plan funds annually to prevent insolvency.
- Cap the annual loan amount at $600 million and set the interest rate at 1%.
- Require the fund to pay interest only for the first ten years and then pay back the principal plus interest over a 30-year term.
- Require the fund to certify each year that the pension plan is solvent and able to pay back the remaining principal and interest.
- Actuarial analyses indicate that the UMWA 1974 Plan would need to take loans for as little as four years.
The need to act now
As both UMWA and industry representatives have educated Members of Congress and their staffs, if the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan collapses beneficiaries and their dependents will be dropped into the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), destroying that program and requiring the American taxpayer to foot the bill instead of the private sector companies. UMWA 1974 Plan actuaries currently expect the Plan to become insolvent in the 2022-2023 time-frame, however any market downturn will rapidly accelerate insolvency.
Click here to see a video of President Roberts and the lead sponsors of the AMP Act discussing the need for it.
Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act
S. 855 was introduced in April, 2017, by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). This bill would streamline the process for filing black lung claims and ensure that all medical information gathered by any party, including results of medical exams and chest x-rays obtained by the employer, would be made available to the miner.
It also establishes a program that would provide for impartial reading of chest x-rays, responding to the scandal that was discovered at Johns Hopkins University where company-side doctors did not find any x-ray evidence of black lung even in miners who later died and autopsies proved they died of the disease.
This bill faces significant hurdles in the current Congress, as it is opposed by the employers and their political allies. That will not stop the UMWA from continuing to discuss the need for modernizing the current black lung benefits legal process and stopping unscrupulous doctors and lawyers from keeping benefits from deserving miners.
The Furthering carbon capture, Utilization, Technology, Underground storage, and Reduced Emissions (FUTURE) Act was PASSED as part of the comprehensive budget legislation on February 9, 2018. This is a tremendous boost for the future of coal-fired power and a hard-fought legislative victory for active UMWA miners!
The FUTURE Act will reform, enhance, and expand upon the current 45Q tax credit provision. Section 45Q of the tax code provides a credit for carbon dioxide (CO2)storage and is available to taxpayers that capture qualified CO2 at a qualified facility and dispose of the CO2 in secure geological storage.
Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) technology will, if commercialized, provide for a long-term future for coal to be used to generate electricity in a carbon-neutral way. However, CCUS projects are very expensive to build and the old $10 per ton credit for EOR and $20 per ton credit for other geologic storage were insufficient to stimulate any real financing of CO2 capture or utilization projects.
Introduced in July by Senators Heitkamp (D-ND), Capito (R-WV), Whitehouse (D-RI), Barrasso (R-WY), Graham (R-SC) and Kaine (D-VA) as S. 1535, the Future Act will provide greater certainty for project developers and potential financers, create more flexibility in credit qualified entities, encourage innovation and development of new projects, and incorporate the Department of Energy’s planned large-scale pilot demonstration projects.
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