Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Miners Protection Act on Tues. July 7. This legislation would ensure that the federal government and coal operators honor their obligation of lifetime pensions and health benefits to retired miners and their families who are facing uncertainty as a result of the financial crisis and corporate bankruptcies.
“Our coal miners are some of the hardest working people in America, and they have dedicated their lives to powering this nation and keeping it the strongest in the world,” Senator Manchin said. “We have a responsibility to protect their hard-earned pensions and health benefits. This bill will provide certainty and peace of mind to our retired miners and their families by ensuring they receive the benefits they’ve earned and deserve, while holding employers accountable for the commitments they make to their workers.”
“The coal mining community is the heart of West Virginia. Our hard-working coal miners have dedicated their careers to keeping the lights turned on in our homes, schools and businesses. This bipartisan bill will safeguard the hard-earned benefits our miners and their families have earned and will provide them the peace of mind they deserve,” said Senator Capito.
“Miners across Pennsylvania have risked their personal safety to secure a better life for their families and contribute to our nation’s energy portfolio. We can’t let their retirements disappear,” Senator Casey said. “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation would give miners across Pennsylvania the peace of mind in knowing that the retirements they worked all their lives for are secure.”
“Our miners worked their entire lives underground to put food on the table and send their kids to college. They deserve the full pension and health benefits they were promised,” said Senator Brown. “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.”
Retired miners are facing uncertainty because the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) 1974 Pension Plan is severely underfunded. Unlike other public and private pension plans, the 1974 Pension Plan was well-managed and funded prior to the 2008 financial crisis, which hit at a time when this Plan had its highest payment obligations. This – coupled with the fact that 60 percent of the beneficiaries are “orphan” retirees whose employers are no longer in the coal business, and the fact that there are only 10,000 active workers for 120,000 retirees – has placed the Plan on the road to insolvency. If the Plan becomes insolvent, these beneficiaries face benefit cuts and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will assume billions of dollars in liabilities.
To address these issues, the Miners Protection Act would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund to the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency and make certain retirees who lose health care benefits following the bankruptcy or insolvency of his or her employer eligible for the 1993 Benefit Plan. The assets of Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) created following the Patriot Coal bankruptcy would be transferred to the 1993 Benefit Plan to reduce transfers from the AML fund.