State AG Shapiro hears pension concerns from retired miners in South Union Twp.

Source: The Herald Standard

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a roundtable listening session with local United Mine Workers of America members at UMWA’s District 2 office in the Uniontown area Friday afternoon amid the backdrop of a looming insolvency for their union pension plan.

Shapiro heard from numerous retired mine workers urging pension reform and assured them that he and his office were fighting for them.

“We’re just asking for what we are owed,” South Union Township resident and UMWA Local 2300 Secretary Tony Kodric told Shapiro. “We’re not asking for any handouts or whatever. We just want what was promised to us for working all the years.”

“I’m going to use whatever influence I have to push those guys in Washington, number one,” Shapiro promised the several dozen attendees. “And number two, I’m going to use whatever legal tools I have to make sure you get every single penny of what is owed to you.”

Both houses of Congress are considering related versions of the proposed American Miners Pension Act, which according to the UMWA 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.

The UMWA 1974 Pension Plan is expected to become insolvent in 2022 or 2023, but any market downturn will rapidly accelerate insolvency, according to the UMWA.

So sticking with the UMWA pension status quo is not an option, Shapiro was told repeatedly by UMWA retirees Friday. One pensioner told Shapiro that his 82-year-old mother has lived on a $664-per-month pension since 1988 when his father, who worked in the Ellsworth mine for 44 years, died. Another pensioner said that his 89-year-old mother-in-law gets a pension of just $425 a month after her husband passed away from black lung disease.

Shapiro was flanked during the listening session by Chief Deputy Attorney General Nancy A. Walker and UMWA International District 2 Vice President Ed Yankovich.

“He’s always had our back,” Yankovich said of Shapiro when the attorney general stated that he had opposed right-to-work laws his entire career in response to an attendee’s complaint about them.

Under right-to-work laws, states have the authority to determine whether workers can be required to join a labor union to get or keep their job.

“I don’t view this as welfare,” Shapiro said of UMWA members’ pensions. “I don’t view this as us paying you to help you out. I view this as something you earn along the way that you have a legal interest in.”

Shapiro said that Walker is the first ever chief deputy attorney general for fair labor, operating in the Fair Labor Section of the attorney general’s office.

“We put our money where our mouth is,” Shapiro said. “Nancy’s job is to use the law to protect your interests and rights. Ed (Yankovich) knows how to reach her and reach me.”

“I appreciate all your help,” Kodric told Shapiro towards the end of the listening session. “Any help we can get, we’ll take it.”

By Mike Tony