For generations, union members have struggled for a secure retirement when their working days are over. Many a contract disagreement has occurred not because of an increase in the daily wage, but to have something set aside when that career is over.
However, for the MTD-affiliated United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), this fight has reached the crisis level, according to Levi Allen, the union’s executive assistant to the secretary-treasurer.
Allen described what is happening to UMWA pensioners and their families during the MTD Executive Board meeting in San Antonio on March 9. He said these retired members had received not one, but two different, notifications that their health care was about to be cancelled. The first came late last year when Congress was bickering over a funding resolution that included a four-month extension to would cover the benefits’ costs. (That measure passed in December.)
Now, Congress again is debating whether to provide funds for the retired Mine Workers. The four-month extension runs through April. Therefore, a second letter of a possible loss of benefits had to be sent in February.
The pretext for federal government involvement goes back to a 1946 agreement overseen by President Harry Truman between the union and the bituminous coal mine owners that called for lifetime payments to miners and their dependents and survivors in cases of sickness, permanent disability, death or retirement. Subsequent contract negotiations included provisions dedicating money for this fund. Additionally, in both 1992 and 2006, Congress in strong bipartisan votes approved an industry-funded mechanism for paying the health care costs of retirees whose companies had gone out of business.
But the recent downturn in the mining of coal has left more than 26,000 retirees facing the prospect of losing their health care. Legislation is pending in both the House and Senate – with Republican and Democratic sponsors – to allow retirees from recently bankrupt companies to get health care coverage from the UMWA Health and Retirement Funds. The legislation would repurpose the balance of an existing appropriation to provide funding to shore up the pension plan.
As Allen described to the board and guests, “Imagine receiving these letters. You gave your whole life to the job and now you may have Black Lung or are disabled. You start getting these letters and wonder what is going to happen next.”
Allen asked for solidarity with the Mine Workers to help these men and women.
MTD President Michael Sacco responded that the department “is with you 100 percent. You tell the Mine Workers that the MTD is with you money, marbles and chalk.” He pledged the department’s continuing support in the fight to secure the retirements of those Mine Workers.