More than 22,000 retired miners and their dependents will lose their health care benefits on April 30, 2017 unless Congress passes the Miners Protection Act.

Miners who for years accepted lower wages in exchange for lifetime health benefits are faced with the loss of those benefits due to the bankruptcies of a number of mining companies.

Senate Bill 175 and House Resolution 179 would secure retiree health care benefits for those retirees whose companies declared bankruptcy in 2012 and 2015 – Patriot Coal, Walter Energy and Alpha Natural Resources. The bill would also preserve the long-term health of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) 1974 Pension Fund.

S. 175 is sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). H.R 179 is sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.).

Conservative group points miners toward ACA

According to a National Public Radio (NPR) story, The Heritage Foundation, believes it’s not the government’s responsibility to fix the problem. The group’s Rachel Greszler said miners will have to rely on Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. Ironically, The Heritage Foundation supports repealing the Affordable Care Act.

One miner’s story

Mark Rankin never worked a day for Patriot Coal Company, but he has been fighting for over four years to keep the health care and pension he was promised since Patriot first sought bankruptcy protection in 2012.  Brother Rankin, a member of UMWA Local Union 1570, worked more than 25 years at the Federal #2 Mine in Marion County, West Virginia.

The mine was originally owned and operated by Eastern Associated Coal Company and later sold to and held as a subsidiary of Peabody Coal Company.  Both of these companies were signatory to UMWA contracts that promised health care and pension benefits for life, as spelled out in the 1946 Krug-Lewis Agreement the union reached with the federal government.

So when Mark retired in 2002 because of health concerns, he was confident his retirement benefits were secure. But the spin-off of Eastern and several other coal subsidiaries owned by Peabody and Arch Coal into Patriot put Mark and his family’s future in jeopardy.

“I worked my entire career for Eastern and Peabody,” said Mark.  “I was injured in the mines and required extensive back and neck surgery.  I have also been diagnosed with pneumoconiosis (black lung disease) and the possibility of losing the heath care and pension I was promised is scary.”

“I am disabled because of the work I did at the mine,” said Mark.  “I can’t possibly find another job given the condition of my health.  If I lose my benefits, I will have to decide whether to buy food or my prescription medication.  This is not what I worked for all my life and it’s certainly not what my company or my government promised.”

Temporary relief

On Dec. 9, 2016, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution that funded health care benefits only for a period of four months, through April 28, 2017. The UMWA had asked Senators to vote against a “cloture” motion to bring this bill to the floor, which requires 60 votes to pass. The motion passed 61-38. Click here to see the record of that vote in the Senate.

In addition to the Miners Protection Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has introduced legislation that would preserve retiree health care benefits. That legislation is S. 176.

Click here for a list of the co-sponsors of S. 175, and click here for a list of the co-sponsors of H.R. 179.