Coal Tattoo

Patriot Coal May 2013 Rally

Well, the latest police response to the continuing United Mine Workers of America “Fairness at Patriot” campaign event certainly seemed like a bit of overkill, as this letter to the editor of the St. Louis paper suggests (see the photos as well).  But it appears that some progress on the Patriot issue is being made in Congress.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts issued this statement yesterday, announcing the union’s support for new bipartisan legislation to help retired Patriot miners whose pensions and health-care benefits are threatened by the company’s bankruptcy:

The legislation introduced today by Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) will provide significant help to retired miners and widows whose health care is threatened. The Coal Healthcare and Pensions Protection Act of 2013 will also provide security for the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan, which serves nearly 100,000 pensioners.

“I want to thank Reps. McKinley and Capito for introducing this bill, and for their support of the retired miners, their spouses or widows, who through no fault of their own, currently face a loss of the health care they were promised and earned through lifetimes of service in America’s mines.

Reps. McKinley and Capito issued a joint statement with Rep. Nick J. Rahall. Rep. McKinley said:

Over the past two and a half years, my staff and I have been working with United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) officials, miners, and retirees in an effort to protect healthcare and pension benefits for our miners. After hearing the stories of what these men and their families face if they lose their benefits, it was clear that we had to find a solution.

And Rep. Capito said:

I am proud to join my West Virginia colleagues in introducing this legislation. We have worked diligently together to craft legislation that addresses the most pressing issues retirees are facing as a result of Patriot Coal Company’s bankruptcy. These hardworking coal miners have dedicated their lives to providing electricity to the Mountain State and building its economy, and we cannot let them down. I will continue to fight for our coal miners and the retirees whose benefits are at risk.

As I understand this new bill, it contains provisions similar to Rep. Rahall’s earlier legislation, aimed at dealing with a UMWA pension plan problem that is separate from the Patriot situation. And, instead of putting Patriot retirees into the UMWA’s 1992 plan, it would put them into the 1993 plan, which means the funding comes from the Treasury — but also means that there is no “reach-back” language to allow the funds to go after Peabody Energy or Arch Coal for those health-care costs.

Rep. Rahall said:

The goals of this legislation, to ensure that our coalminers can access the benefits they were promised, are similar to those of the CARE Act which I introduced earlier this year and I am happy to lend my support to this bill as well. This effort is about standing up for coal miners, their widows, and our coalfield communities. After a lifetime of labor, they have earned the right to retire and live in dignity and I refuse to stand idly by as our miners see the benefits they earned over a lifetime eroded by forces beyond their control. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And our miners deserve better.