March 02, 2016

UMWA, Ohio and West Virginia Senators Fight for Retiree Benefits | Wheeling Intelligencer

MARTINS FERRY - Partially due to a depressed coal market and recent bankruptcies - as well as new technologies that allow companies to extract the mineral with far fewer employees than they once needed - the pensions for thousands of retired coal miners hang in the balance as U.S. senators consider the Miners Protection Act.

On Tuesday, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts testified in Washington, D.C., before the Senate Finance Committee on the matter. He also met with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

"Mr. Roberts is one of the most committed individuals working for the welfare of miners in the history of the industry," Manchin said. "This common-sense legislation simply seeks to honor that obligation and protect the pension and health benefits of retired miners and their dependents that was promised to them."

According to Manchin, there are only 10,000 active miners for 120,000 retirees in the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan. If the plan becomes insolvent, the beneficiaries will face benefit cuts and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. will assume billions of dollars in liabilities.

"Congress has a responsibility to America's retired mine workers to protect the pensions they've earned for a lifetime of back-breaking work," Brown said. "It is our job to pass the bipartisan Miners Protection Act, and there is no more important legislation before this committee than this bill."

The UMWA's 1974 pension plan was 94 percent funded prior to 2008.

However, declining coal values have led to several large coal companies to declare bankruptcy, including Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources and Patriot Coal.

"Our miners worked underground their entire lives to put food on the table and send their kids to college. They deserve the full pension and health benefits they were promised," Brown said. "We must do more to protect these earned benefits. This bill would preserve the pension fund and give Ohio's miners and their families the peace of mind that they'll get the benefits they're owed."

By:  Casey Junkins