WASHINGTON, D.C. – From the moment Murray Energy announced it had filed for bankruptcy in late October, elected officials in West Virginia have been searching for a solution to save the pensions and health care for some 100,000 U.S. miners.
On Monday, the U.S. took action with the approval of the Bipartisan American Miners Act.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said the measure has been included in the final funding package that will keep the government open beyond Dec. 20 when the current temporary funding measure expires. The funding package would prevent a government shutdown.
This bill secures lifetime healthcare benefits for the 13,000 miners who would have lost their benefits entirely and the 92,000 miners who would have seen their pensions gutted next year without Congressional action.
“Today we came to an agreement that will finally secure pensions and healthcare for our coal miners and their families,” Manchin said in a prepared statement. “We have honored the promise this country made to them back in 1946. This would not have happened without the UMWA and the thousands of coal miners who invested their time and energy, year after year, coming to Washington, walking the halls, and fighting for their brothers and sisters.”
Manchin thanked his colleagues in both the House and Senate “for making this a truly bipartisan effort.”
The measure is expected to be voted on later this week and sent to President Donald Trump to sign into law.
The Murray Energy bankruptcy – the eight bankruptcy filed over the past year by coal companies – was a bellwether event for the UMWA who had been fighting for some type of pension relief since the day the announcement was made.
Active in the UMWA for three decades, West Virginia House of Delegates member Mike Caputo(D-Marion) said in October that the big corporations are always the ones who get protected in bankruptcy courts. He urged Congress then to pass a law to protect miners’ pensions.
On Monday, when the bill that was championed by Manchin was announced as approved, Caputo applauded the senator’s efforts.
“I am relieved and grateful that Senator Manchin, Senator Capito and West Virginia’s House delegation were able to secure a bipartisan agreement that protects lifetime healthcare benefits and pensions for thousands of coal miners in West Virginia and throughout the country,” Caputo said in a prepared statement.
Caputo also thanked his longtime friend and colleague, UMWA President Cecil Roberts, for his and others’ work in getting the bill passed.
“I would also like to thank the leadership of President Cecil Roberts, Secretary-Treasurer Levi Allen and the UMWA rank-and-file-miners who have spent countless days on Capitol Hill urging our government to keep the promise of cradle-to-grave healthcare and pensions for coal miners and their spouses.” said Caputo.
The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 will amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency.
The measure will also amend the Coal Act to include 2018 and 2019 bankruptcies in the miners’ health care fix that passed in 2017. These actions will secure the pensions of 92,000 coal miners and protect health care benefits for 13,000 miners and their health care.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) also weighed in on the bill’s inclusion in the larger budget bill.
“Protecting the health care and pension benefits for our coal miners has been one of my top priorities, and I am thrilled legislation protecting these benefits for our miners is included in the final funding package,” Moore Capito said.
She said she is looking forward to a “strong bipartisan vote” on the bill before it heads to the president for signing.
“I’m grateful to our West Virginia miners—who I’ve stood alongside throughout this entire process—for their hope, their patience, and the hard work they’ve done for decades to power our country,” she said.
Moore Capito introduced the legislation last month along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Manchin.
Meanwhile, Roberts praised the measure while also warning that it is a good start.
“We are close, but the fight is not yet over. The House will vote on this [Tuesday], and the Senate will vote later in the week. We will continue our efforts to ensure that this language stays in the legislation throughout the process, because there are still those who oppose allowing retirees to live out their days with the measure of comfort and dignity that they have earned,” Roberts said.
Roberts described Manchin, Moore Capito and U.S. Rep. David McKinley(R-W.Va.) as champions in what he described as a 10-year battle to pass such protections for miners.
Like his Senate colleagues, McKinley praised the measure and the work it took to get to this point.
“After years of work to protect the pensions and health care earned by retired miners, the finish line is in sight,” said McKinley. “By the end of the week Congress will finally provide peace of mind to the 100,000 retirees, widows, and families who depend on the UMWA pension fund,” McKinley said.