UMWA pushes for permanent fix to pension crisis


MARION COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) – Roger Merriman never thought that at 66-years-old, he would have to fight to protect his future.

“I put 28 and a half years in the mines with the understanding that I would have lifetime pension and health care,” Merriman said, referring to the Promise of 1946, which was struck by President Harry Truman and the United Mine Workers of America.

The deal created the UMWA Health and Retirement Funds. But that promise is in jeopardy.

Due to the 2008 Recession and a series of bankruptcies in the coal industry, the pension fund has been severely depleted.

There’s fear that if a solution isn’t reached soon, the fund will become insolvent.

“Another coal company going bankrupt or a downturn in the market could make it go a lot quicker,” Merriman said, speaking to 5 News from the UMWA offices in Fairmont.

The congressional delegation from West Virginia has been instrumental in pushing legislation to ensure the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan can continue to pay retired miners or their widows. But bills introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate last year have stalled.

Union representatives hope conversations about government funding will shine a spotlight on the pension crisis, which could impact more than 100,000 beneficiaries.

“As Congress works to develop legislation to fully fund the government for the rest of the year, it is critical that a solution to the looming multiemployer pension crisis be included in that bill,” said Cecil Roberts, International President of the UMWA. “The UMWA 1974 Pension Plan is on the cusp of insolvency, and is one more coal company away from going under.”

Merriman, who has been to Washington, D.C. to lobby several times on behalf of miners, applauds Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito for relaying miners’ concerns to other lawmakers.

In a statement to 5 News, Manchin cited his role in building consensus to end the government shutdown earlier this week.

“I worked all weekend to find a bipartisan compromise to end the government shutdown,” Manchin said. “And over the next three weeks I’ll continue working to ensure we keep our promise to our coal miners so they don’t lose their hard-earned pensions. These miners earned their pensions through a lifetime of backbreaking work, and I will not stop fighting until these pensions are finally secured.”

Senator Capito echoed those sentiments, releasing her own statement this week.

“I have led bipartisan efforts to address the miners’ pensions issue and will continue these efforts to see that the ‘American Miners Pension Act’ or similar legislation is enacted,” Capito said.

The senators did not, however, indicate if they would insist that a permanent fix be included in any spending bill, or if they would push for it in separate legislation.