May 13, 2017

Manchin meets with UMWA in Beckley to discuss pension legislation | Beckley Register Herald

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., shook the hands and slapped the backs of the retired miners gathered Friday at the UMWA office in Beckley. 

"We're going to get it done," Manchin said of their pensions as he made his way through the crowd. "We're halfway there."

Congress reached an agreement earlier this month creating a permanent solution to fund health care benefits for retired miners' and their widows, as promised to them in 1946 with the Krug-Lewis agreement. 

"We had to fight for five years," Manchin said. "You all came to Washington, not just one time, but time after time, through the hottest days of summer and the coldest days of winter."

He continued, "(Congress) saw real people. People who built the country. They learned what mining has done for our country."

The miners' and their widows' health care benefits will be funded by customs user fees, the fees paid on goods that are brought into the country. 

The Miners Pension Protection Act, introduced Thursday, will amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer funds in excess of amounts needed to meet obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency. 

Manchin reviewed the timeline, when new bankruptcy laws were approved in the 1980s, which he said allowed Wall Street to get the upper hand on human beings. 

"We allowed these companies to merge and dump all their liabilities into a company they knew was doomed to fail. That's criminal. That's what we're left dealing with."

Rick Ryan, a man who spent 35 years working at Hobet Mining in Boone County, saw it unfold and tried to fight against it. 

He said he watched the coal companies merge, until finally, all the union obligations fell to Peabody Energy. He traveled to their headquarters in St. Louis to fight for his health care and pension rights. He even traveled as far as Australia to defend the rights of the union workers. 

Temporary fixes were put in place, but he is grateful to Manchin, who he said never stopped fighting for the miners' rights. 

"Thank you for all the work you've done," he said to Manchin. "I made five trips to D.C. and I got to see you in action. You went all out for our benefits."

Ryan said every member of Congress he talked to told him to go back and thank Manchin, who had kept the fire burning on the bill for the past five years. 

"The miners' health care and pension — it's the difference between life and death," Ryan told The Register-Herald. "Thank God and Joe Manchin."

Manchin said he couldn't estimate a timeline on the pension bill. He expects the same lawmakers who stalled the health care bill will try to "wait until critical mass," roughly two years, on the pension plan as well. 

He said he'll continue fighting though, because the longer Congress waits to pass a solution, "the more expensive the cost to fix."

Manchin chatted with the retired miners about a number of other issues, including the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the Russian investigation into the Trump administration, environmental regulations, and the challenge he faces during the next election cycle. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., recently announced a bid for Manchin's seat. 

"I'll be OK," Manchin assured the crowd. "You all don't have to guess a whole lot about me. I've been around long enough. A lot of these people you don't know."

He said he's looking forward to the challenge, but he believes he has the upper hand because he's "not afraid to lose."

"My consolation is to come back to West Virginia, so I'm just fine with that."

Ryan looked at the fellow miners around him and said, "If you don’t get out and back this man come this election, don’t go crying when you don’t get your pensions." 

By:  Wendy Holdren