|United Mine Workers Rallying |
at the Capital Building.
The promise these miners are pointing to stemmed from a 1946 agreement between the executive branch of the government and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The Krug Lewis Agreement promised the UMWA membership that their health and retirement benefits would not be compromised.
A Little Background
Through the first half of the 20th century, there was no industry more important to the
than the coal industry. The country
counted on the energy provided by coal through the hard work of the miners to
power them to world heights of the industrial age. So important was the coal mine industry that
miners were asked to stay in the mines throughout World War II instead of
fighting on the front lines.
At the conclusion of World War II, the UMWA went on strike because an agreement couldn’t be reached with the coal companies concerning their inadequate health benefits. Industry had turned back to production of consumer goods and Americans were in the mood to consume. The country couldn’t afford a coal shortage because of the likelihood it would halt production. The stand-still would move the country back into the dire economy of the pre-war depression.
To avoid this crisis, President Harry Truman ordered the federal government to take over the mines and start negotiating with the union. What emerged was the Krug Lewis Act which promised benefits would not be taken away from the coal miners.
The funds holding together the miners’ benefits were solvent up until the 2008 economic crisis. At that time, abuses on Wall Street destroyed the pension funds of a lot of Americans. Also, the changing energy industry and the declining price of natural gas had an adverse effect on the number of employed coal miners.
In addition, corporate shenanigans such as the Peabody/Patriot Coal spinoff perpetuated the disaster. Patriot spun off
Peabody and acquired its
liabilities including retiree health benefits.
When Patriot filed for bankruptcy in 2012, these benefits were in
jeopardy. If it weren’t for a modest settlement between the company and the
UMWA, the crisis would have hit crisis level much earlier. However, this minor victory for the union did
nothing to ensure future availability of these benefits.
Last year, Senator Joe Manchin, (D) WV, introduced S. 1714 “The Miner’s Protection Act.” This legislation would essentially keep the promises that were made and protect the benefits of the miners, the retirees and their families. It is a bi-partisan bill with 18 sponsors with nine being Democrats, eight Republicans and one independent. There is an identical bill in the House that is also bi-partisan. It has 47 Republican sponsors, and 36 Democrats.
“Our retirees suffering from black lung, who gave not only their years of service but also sacrificed their health, will be forced to choose between getting that oxygen tank they rely on to breathe or paying their electric bill. Surviving widows will be forced to choose between buying their blood pressure medicine or putting food on their tables.”
--Sen Joe Manchin, (D) WV
|Senator Joe Manchin (D) WV, introduced the|
Miners Protection Act to the US Senate
So what is the hold up? The leadership has not allowed the bills to progress to a vote on the floor. Strangely enough, the majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell is holding this bill up in the Senate. As the senior senator from
Kentucky, a big coal mine state, one can
only conjecture why he hasn’t jumped to the aid of his constituents.
According to the AP, a McConnell spokesman said that the majority leader “has been and remains committed to helping ensure the retirement security of our nation’s retirees, including coal miners.” Of course the UMWA and the many legislators that have signed on to support the Miners Protection Act logically respond, “Prove it!”