[TRIANGLE, VA.] The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) today released a letter that was sent by the Patriot Voluntary Employee Beneficial Association (Patriot VEBA) to some 12,500 of its beneficiaries informing them that the Patriot VEBA will run out of money to pay health care benefits on Dec. 31, 2016 (letter attached).
“These workers put their lives and their health on the line every day for 25, 35, even 45 years, providing the fuel that energized our nation and made it the most powerful country on Earth,” UMWA International President Cecil Roberts said. “They earned every penny of these benefits and now, through no fault of their own, they are on the brink of losing them.”
“America made them a promise 70 years ago: ‘You mine the coal that makes our country strong, and we will see to it that you have retirement benefits in your old age,’” Roberts said. “That promise has been kept by Congresses and administrations led by Republicans and Democrats from that day to this one. This Congress and this administration have a responsibility to do so once again.
“This is a life or death matter for thousands in the coalfields,” Roberts said. “They are counting on our government to fulfill its moral obligation and pass legislation this year that will save their lives.”
The legislation, S. 1714 in the Senate and H.R. 2403 in the House, would preserve these retirees’ health care and pension benefits using an existing appropriation already set aside for coal miners’ retirement benefits. The Senate Finance Committee last month approved S. 1714 by a bi-partisan 18-8 vote.
S. 1714 was introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va) and has 22 co-sponsors in the Senate, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. H.R. 2403 was introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and has 87 co-sponsors, 47 Republicans and 40 Democrats.
The affected retirees are those who worked at mines operated by Patriot Coal, Peabody Energy or Arch Coal and were represented by the UMWA. Patriot was created by a spin-off of Peabody’s unionized mines in 2007, and in 2008 it acquired mines that had been operated by Arch Coal.
Patriot entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012, emerging on January 1, 2014. As part of the bankruptcy Judges’s order, Patriot was relieved of its obligation to pay retiree health care benefits. However, the UMWA negotiated payments from Patriot and Peabody to fund the VEBA for several years. Arch later agreed to contribute funding for the VEBA as well.
Patriot was split up into separate companies as a result of a second bankruptcy in 2015, and Peabody and Arch filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2016.
“There is a ready solution to this critical problem,” Roberts said. “It is a simple solution, it is paid for and it is bi-partisan. When Congress returns to Washington in November, one of its first acts must be to pass this legislation and give these senior citizens the peace of mind that the benefits they paid for in sweat, toil and blood will be there when they need them.”