July 11, 2016

We are closer to saving miner's health, pension benefits | Charleston Gazette

In May 1946, the United States was in the midst of a robust post-World War II economic recovery. The United Mine Workers of America were actively negotiating their contracts and a strike was pending in the coal mines. President Truman recognized the vital role the coal industry played in the economic recovery efforts and, fearing a prolonged strike, issued an Executive Order directing the Secretary of Interior to take possession of the bituminous coal mines in the United States and negotiate with the unions.

The strike ended one week later with the announcement of the Krug Lewis Agreement — a historic document that created the promise of health benefits and retirement security for our nation’s miners.

Fast forward 70 years and that promise is in jeopardy despite the fact that the pension plan for these miners was well-managed and well-funded prior to the 2008 financial crisis. But coupled with the fact that 6 percent of the beneficiaries are “orphan” retirees whose employers are no longer in business and the fact that only 10,000 active workers are contributing for 120,000 retirees, the plan can no longer avoid insolvency.

After years of fighting for passage of the Miners Protection Act, I have secured a promise of a vote, and we are one step closer to making this vital legislation law. I will do everything in my power to make sure that Congress acts, and that thousands of retired miners and their widows do not lose their health care benefits by the end of this year and, by next December, their pension benefits. Time is up.

If we don’t do something, retired miners and their dependents will start to receive letters notifying them of the expiration of their health care benefits —notifying them that they will be forced to make some very difficult choices very soon.

Our retirees suffering from black lung, who gave not only their years of service but also sacrificed their health, will be forced to choose between getting that oxygen tank they rely on to breathe or paying their electric bill. Surviving widows will be forced to choose between buying their blood pressure medicine or putting food on their tables.

Fortunately, Congress can do something. Congress can pass the Miners Protection Act.

Our coal miners are some of the hardest-working people in America and they have dedicated their lives to powering our nation and keeping it the strongest in the world. We have a responsibility to protect their hard-earned pensions and health benefits. Congress must work in a bipartisan manner to ensure the federal government upholds its end of the deal. The Miners Protection Act is a bipartisan solution with Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. And it must be passed into law without delay.

The solution is obvious and to ignore it is simply immoral. We cannot break for recess without reaching a solution to this urgent problem. Our retired miners and their widows deserve better. I am committed to working with my colleagues to ensure we keep the promise President Truman made to our miners more than 70 years ago.

By:  Senator Joe Manchin