Source: WV MetroNews
December 17, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. — United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts won’t rest until the legislation to shore up pension and healthcare benefits for his members is signed by President Donald Trump. However, speaking on MetroNews “Talkline” Tuesday, Roberts admitted he was extremely confident the time will arrive this week.
It’s the end of what has been a long and strenuous fight for Roberts and the rank-and-file members of the union. For the past four years pensioners and their families have traveled to massive rallies across the country to stand up and demand the pension and healthcare they say they were promised by the federal government in 1946. Until now, their protests seemed to fall on deaf ears.
“Some of the most impressive lobbying you’ve ever seen were UMWA retirees and those camouflaged t-shirts. They were the talk of Capitol Hill. UMWA retirees in $6 tee-shirts out lobbied K-Street lobbyists in $10,000 suits,” Roberts said.
Although to Roberts and retirees, the crises was clear from the first time they spoke to Congress, it took more drastic changes to move the needle. A series of events in recent months made the difference. The most recent was the bankruptcy of Murray Energy. Murray was the last company paying into the fund which upheld the benefits. Their loss left the plan with no support and without congressional intervention it would have failed.
But for Roberts, it was more than that.
“The Murray bankruptcy, Senator (Mitch) McConnell coming on board and the persistence of Senator Manchin and Capito and Congressman McKinley, all of that put together,” he said.
The American Miner Act is part of the package to keep the government funded past Dec. 20. It’s a load of a lot of minds, according to Roberts.
“It’s just really good news. I know this is such a blessing, particularly at this time of the year so people can go into next year not worrying about buying health insurance out of their own pocket and they depend on these pension checks to live,” he said.
He added, the impact on the West Virginia economy is also a factor. The miners’ pension and healthcare benefits pump $1.5 billion annually into the Appalachian region. The money is spent in the communities on basic necessities and durable items, but also creates health care facilities and jobs for many in the region as well.
“This touches a lot of people in West Virginia,” said Roberts.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the $1.4 trillion funding package Tuesday afternoon.
Written by: Chris Lawrence