UMWA hails vote to pass permanent health care funding for 22,600 retirees, widows

MAY 4, 2017

UMWA hails vote to pass permanent health care funding for 22,600 retirees, widows

[TRIANGLE, VA] The vote today by the United States Senate to pass the Continuing Resolution funding the government means that 22,600 retired coal miners, their dependents and widows will receive the health care they earned and were promised by their government for the rest of their lives, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said today.

“We have been fighting this battle since Patriot Coal’s initial bankruptcy filing nearly five years ago,” Roberts said. “Tens of thousands of our members, both retired and active, have marched, rallied, written letters and made phone calls to their representatives in Washington, urging passage of this legislation. They deserve the lion’s share of the credit for getting us to this day.”

The legislation, which was part of the Miners Protection Act, will incorporate into the 1993 Benefit Plan those beneficiaries who had lost health care coverage as a result of recent bankruptcies and closures of coal companies. These miners will be treated the same as beneficiaries under the Coal Act which provides that solvent coal companies must be responsible for their own retirees but when companies fail the government will step in to assist in providing retirement benefits.

“This will mean the difference between life and death for thousands of senior citizens throughout the coalfields,” Roberts said. “These elderly people have been living with the cruel anxiety of not knowing how long their health care would last. They didn’t know if they could get prescriptions they needed to live, get life-saving treatments for cancers or other illnesses, or stay in their nursing homes. Now they have the peace of mind they need to live out their lives without that to worry about.

“We are very appreciative of the bi-partisan coalition of Senators and Representatives who came together and worked so hard on this,” Roberts said. “Our lead sponsors in the Senate, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), were relentless in their efforts. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.), Rob Portman (R-Oh.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N. Dak.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also worked very hard on this legislation.

“I also want to thank Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, both of whom supported a permanent fix for these health care benefits and who worked together to make this happen,” Roberts said.

“In the House, Representative David McKinley (R-W. Va.) was our lead sponsor and strong advocate,” Roberts said. “Others who played key roles were Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), Mike Doyle, (D-Pa.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Steve Stivers (R-Oh.), Mike Bost (R-Ill.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Jim Renacci (R-Oh.), Tim Ryan (D-Oh.), Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). And Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi never wavered in her support for our retirees.”

Roberts noted that preserving the health care benefits was just one part of the Miners Protection Act. “As much as we enjoy this victory, our fight is not over,” he said. “We must waste no time to develop a solution to the pension crisis that is looming for even more retired miners and widows. If Congress does not act soon, 89,000 current pensioners and 30,000 of those who are owed a pension in the future will not get what they earned.

“We have been working on preserving the pensions since the Great Recession of 2008-09 caused this problem,” Roberts said. “We look forward to again solving this problem in a bi-partisan manner and ensuring that these retirees get the full spectrum of benefits they earned working in our nation’s coal mines, putting their lives and their health on the line every single day to produce the fuel that powered America.”