UMWA

Aaron Payne | Ohio Valley ReSource

The recent bankruptcy of Ohio Valley coal giant Murray Energy has renewed fears about the already shaky financial foundations of the pension plan that tens of thousands of miners and their families depend upon.

The seismic collapse of yet another coal employer has lawmakers from the region renewing their push to fix the United Mine Workers pension fund, and has even raised broader concerns about pensions for a range of other trades.

Murray Energy has a substantial footprint across the region. It is also the last major employer contributing to the UMWA pension plan. In its bankruptcy filing, the company reports $2.7 billion in debt and more than $8 billion in obligations under various pension and benefit plans. More information will likely come out as the bankruptcy court takes up the matter.


On Labor Day, Miners Mark Historic Union March

Sep 3, 2019
Emily Allen

Ninety-eight years ago, thousands of pro-union miners marched toward West Virginia’s Logan County, to protest abuses by coal operators in what was then a largely anti-union territory.

The marchers were met at Blair Mountain in Logan County by an army of men, fighting on behalf of anti-union mine guards and local law enforcement. The battle was so heated that then-president Warren Harding called in Army troops to restore order.


Curren Sheldon

Curtis Cress sat in the gravel beside a railroad track in Harlan County, Kentucky. Tall and thin with a long, black beard, Cress is every bit a coal miner, or, he was until a month ago.

“It’s part of my heritage, you know? My dad and papaws had always done it,” he said. “And I’m proud of that heritage.”

Cress had been at these railroad tracks for days, with little sleep. Not far down the rails sat a row of hopper cars filled with coal from his former employer, Blackjewel Coal.


Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee

United Mine Workers and supporters were on Capitol Hill Wednesday in an effort to shore up their pension and health benefits. More than 43,000 coal miners in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are growing anxious about losing their retirement benefits.

The coal miner’s union says its pension fund will be insolvent in three years if Congress doesn’t take action. If the pension plan defaults, coal miner’s retirement plans will fall to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which will reduce their benefits. It would also put the PBGC at risk of insolvency.  


Howard Berkes/NPR

Harold Sturgill was disabled by black lung disease when he was 58 years old. Now he advocates for disabled miners.

“When it comes to the mining companies, and it comes to the worker, it’s still all about production,” Sturgill said. “They could care less about me, how much dust I suck in, or how long I’m going to live, because somebody else is there to take my place.”

Sturgill worries that without meaningful action to protect miners, his son, who is also a miner, will contract the same illness. “A man’s gonna feed his family whether it kills him or not,” he said.


Joe Manchin Youtube

Retired coal miners joined lawmakers from the Ohio Valley on Capitol Hill Wednesday for another attempt to protect miners’ pensions. Pensions are at risk because of a downturn in the coal market, the lingering effects of the 2008 recession, and coal company bankruptcies which have all reduced the amounts companies paid into a shared, or multiemployer, pension plan. The United Mine Workers of America is pushing Congress for legislation to shore up those retirement benefits.


MSHA

The United Mine Workers of America is suing the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, after the agency reduced its heightened oversight of a West Virginia coal mine with a poor safety record.

MSHA has the power to declare mines with a history of significant safety violations as having a “Pattern of Violations.” Known as “POV status,” the declaration is an enforcement tool that allows the agency to increase regulatory scrutiny at a mine with repeated safety issues.

Aaron Payne

Thousands of union coal miners and their families gathered this summer in Columbus, Ohio, wielding signs and wearing camouflage United Mine Workers of America shirts.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts led the crowd in a call-and-response chant.

“I want you to send a loud, clear signal that we are one! We are one!”

But the miners weren’t there for a strike or to picket a company over a contract dispute. They were demonstrating to draw attention to an often overlooked issue: Pensions.


Aaron Payne

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts fired up a crowd of thousands of union workers in Columbus, Ohio, with a simple chant: “Fix it!”

The rally last week came on the eve of a Congressional field hearing on problems plaguing multiemployer pension programs like the one retired miners depend upon.

“When the people get to marching, the politicians get to listening,” Roberts roared.


c-span

The Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget has announced a review of an Obama-era rule that protects coal miners from exposure to the dust that causes black lung disease.

That has some health and safety advocates concerned. The review comes amid a tide of regulatory rollbacks by the Trump administration and at a time that black lung disease is on the rise in Appalachian coal country.


Office of Sen. Brown

Retired union coal miners are joining teamsters, iron workers and other union retirees in an effort to shore up their ailing pension plans, and they hope the ticking clock on a government spending bill will help.

Some Democrats want to see protections for retirement benefits included in the omnibus spending bill, which Congress must pass in order to prevent a government shutdown. That could set up a year-end showdown over the spending bill, with major implications for retirees in the Ohio Valley region.


MSHA

Lawmakers and union leaders are raising concerns about the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s practices amid an increase in coal fatalities.  

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin asked MSHA for more information after receiving what he calls “alarming” reports about how the agency is implementing its new Compliance Assistance Program.

In a September 7th letter, Manchin wrote that he’s heard of miners being denied the ability to assign a representative to accompany MSHA inspectors and that those inspectors have been instructed to leave their credentials behind before inspecting a mine.


McConnell Plays Dual Role In Miners’ Benefits Saga

May 4, 2017
becca schimmel

Retired miners will not lose their health benefits, as had been feared, thanks to last-minute action from Congress. However, Congress did not act on the miners’ faltering pension benefits fund, which supports some 43,000 retired miners in the Ohio Valley region.

The health and pension benefits had been connected in legislation in Congress called the Miners Protection Act, but were split in the final push to include benefits protections in a federal spending bill.

Both the successful extension of the health benefits and the failure to act on pensions have a lot to do with one key player: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

 


Miners' Message To Trump: Protect Our Benefits

Mar 20, 2017
Becca Schimmel

President Donald Trump’s campaign-style rally in Louisville got the attention of some retired coal miners in the region. They’re particularly worried about being able to afford health insurance on a new plan.

Retired union miners have been traveling to Washington to urge passage of The Miner’s Protection Act, which would secure their health and pension benefits. More than 22,000 coal retirees and beneficiaries could lose their benefits at the end of April if congress doesn’t act. They’ve requested a meeting with President Trump. Retired miner Steve Earle said there are a few things he’d like to say to the president.

 


becca schimmel

Congressional Democrats say they won’t allow a vote on President Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative unless lawmakers pass a bill helping coal miners.

The Miner’s Protection Act includes healthcare and pension benefits for coal miners and their families. World Trade Online reports that Robert Lighthizer cannot be confirmed as U.S Trade Representative without a waiver, because of his representation of foreign governments in the 1980s. Senate Democrats say they’ll support the waiver only if it moves out of committee alongside--or after--the miner’s bill.

Pages