U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) today introduced the Miners Protection Act. This bipartisan 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.
“I’ve always been proud to stand up for coal workers and their families,” said Sen. Warner. “Coal miners put themselves on the line underground to power our economy and this bipartisan proposal holds up our end of the bargain by protecting the pensions and health benefits that our miners have rightfully earned.”
“Virginia’s retired coal miners and their families should not have to worry that their hard-earned pensions and health care benefits are at risk,” said Sen. Kaine. “We made a commitment to these miners and we must work to ensure they are protected from forces outside of their control. I’m proud to support this bipartisan bill that will protect the livelihoods of thousands of Virginians.”
“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,” Sen. 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 Sen. Capito.
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% 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.
- 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.
In November 2014, Sens. Warner and Kaine introduced the Black Lung Benefits Act to help level the playing field for miners battling black lung disease, an ailment caused by inhaling coal dust over an extended period of time that can be debilitating and potentially fatal.