Health care and pension funds covering tens of thousands of retirees throughout the Appalachian and Midwestern coalfields are “rapidly deteriorating,” according to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
That assessment comes after a report to the UMWA this week to the UMWA Board this week from Trustees of the UMWA Health and Retirement Funds and the Patriot Voluntary Employee Beneficial Association (VEBA).
“The Trustees made it abundantly clear that there is no more time to wait if these funds are to be preserved,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “With the current depression in the coal market the contributions to the 1974 Pension Fund have been cut by two-thirds from last year’s levels.
Congress lets coal companies stop paying
“More and more companies are receiving approval from bankruptcy courts to stop paying into the 1974 Fund, which will cause that situation to only get worse,” Roberts said. “The 1974 Fund pays out over $600 million per year to 89,000 retired coal miners and widows – an average benefit of $560 per month. Cutting those benefits won’t save the Pension Fund. Only Congress can do that, by living up to our nation’s 70-year promise to these retired miners and their widows.”
Roberts also noted that at least 21,000 retirees are at risk of losing their health care coverage at the end of the year due to the bankruptcies that have occurred in the coal industry in 2012 and 2015. “This situation is especially critical for them,” Roberts said. “The Trustees made it clear to us that they will have no choice but to send a letter in the next few months advising these senior citizens about the impending loss of their health care benefits.
"Kicked to the curb"
“These miners worked for 25, 30, 40 or more years, always believing that the federal government would live up to the obligation it made to them in the White House in 1946 to guarantee retirement benefits,” Roberts said. “But they are now confronted with the very real possibility that this will be the first Congress to abandon that obligation in 70 years, making them feel as if they’ve been kicked to the curb.
“Our members are running out of both time and patience,” Roberts said. “This is an urgent issue that we intend to address immediately, both in the coalfields and in Washington, D.C. We will be urging Congress to take action without delay, because there is no more time.”