Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘UMWA’

Miners Working with Congress to Solve Pension Crisis

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

Strong bipartisan legislation has been introduced in recent congressional sessions to solve the pension crisis currently facing America’s mine workers. The Miners Protection Act is a response to a growing insolvency problem with the Mine Workers (UMWA) 1974 Pension Plan. The legislation would protect the pensions of 87,000 current beneficiaries and 20,000 more who have vested for their pensions but have not yet begun drawing them. We’ve waited too long to see this problem addressed, and Congress should act now.

The pension fund for America’s mine workers began as a promise from President Harry Truman in 1946 that America would protect the health and welfare of coal miners, who were vital to the country’s safety and growth. In 1974, changes were made to the plan to strengthen these protections. But in recent years, a combination of extremely depressed coal markets, coal company bankruptcies and other factors have caused a significant dropoff in the employer contributions to the fund. In the past two years, contributions to the plan have fallen by more than $100 million, setting up significant problems in the near future, with the fund currently projected to go bankrupt in 2022 or 2023.

Specifically, the legislation would:

  1. Include a provision from the original Miners Protection Act allowing transfers of excess funds in the Abandoned Mine Land program to the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan.
  2. Direct the Treasury Department to loan the 1974 UMWA Plan funds annually to prevent insolvency.
  3. Cap the annual loan amount at $600 million and set the interest rate at 1%.
  4. Require the fund to pay interest only for the first 10 years and then pay back the principal plus interest over a 30-year term.
  5. Require the fund to certify each year that the pension plan is solvent and able to pay back the remaining principal and interest.
  6. Actuarial analyses indicate that the UMWA 1974 Plan would need to take loans for as little as four years.

Learn more about the legislation.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on October 4, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts Says Turkey Mine Disaster is a 'Punch in the Gut' for All Coal Miners

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Jackie TortoraUnited Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement Thursday:

“The horrific news coming from the coal mine near Soma, Turkey where nearly 300 miners have been killed and scores more are missing is a punch in the gut for every coal miner everywhere in the world. The hearts and prayers of every UMWA member and our families are with the families of the miners who lost their lives, and we sincerely hope that rescue efforts are possible and successful for those who remain trapped.

“The magnitude of this tragedy is appalling. I see where the media is calling this an industrial ‘accident,’ but a disaster on this scale is no accident. This mine was clearly a bomb waiting to go off. There could not have been any regulatory enforcement or company oversight of what went on in that mine.

“It has been nearly a century since we have seen disasters on this scale in the United States or Canada. Through strong laws and regulations, we have been able to develop workplace protections that keep our miners safe from the kinds of conditions that must have existed in that Turkish mine.

“What we have done here isn’t magical. It can be and has been applied elsewhere in the world. We stand ready to work with the Turkish miners and their government to help develop safety and health procedures that can help put an end to the possibility of these sorts of massive disasters in the future.”

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on May 16, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

UMWA: Bankruptcy Judge Ruling on Patriot Coal Is 'Wrong' and 'Unfair'

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Kenneth QuinnellOn Wednesday, Judge Kathy Surratt-States of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri ruled in favor of Patriot Coal in its efforts to eliminate its collective bargaining agreements and get out of commitments made to retirees who worked for Patriot, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. These workers gave years of their lives to making the companies profitable only to be abandoned in their retirement years. The Mine Workers (UMWA) union continues to argue that Patriot was specifically designed to fail in order to dump retiree health care costs. The current CEO of Patriot, Ben Hatfield, has agreed with that assessment.

UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said the ruling was “wrong, unfair and fails to fully recognize the coming wave of human suffering that will be experienced by thousands of people throughout the coalfields.” Roberts said not only was the decision morally wrong, it wasn’t a necessary financial move for the company:

The UMWA presented a very clear picture in court of what Patriot actually needed to come out of bankruptcy. Patriot can survive as a viable and profitable company well into the future without inflicting the level of pain on active and retired miners and their families it seeks. Patriot is using a temporary liquidity problem to achieve permanent changes that will significantly reduce the living standards of thousands of active and retired miners and their families. We are disappointed that the Bankruptcy Court failed to see that, and we intend to appeal the ruling to the Federal District Court.

Under the ruling, Patriot will be allowed to stop paying retiree health care benefits as early as July 1. A Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association (VEBA) takes over payment of the benefits, but the VEBA only has guaranteed funding of $15 million and about $5 million more per year based on royalty payments from Patriot. Current monthly health care costs for the retirees are nearly $7 million.

The ruling also allows Patriot to eliminate its current collective bargaining agreements with UMWA, and the company could cut current workers’ wages and health benefits and implement substandard conditions of employment, among other potential negative impacts. UMWA has filed suit charging that Peabody and Arch violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in creating Patriot.

Supporters of the retired coal miners, such as Green For All CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, also condemned the ruling (via press release):

Today’s decision favors corporate greed over honest, loyal work. These workers have given years of service and have risked their lives in the coal mines, only to see the benefits they were promised stripped away. They deserve our support.

It is hard to imagine anything more unpatriotic than what Patriot Coal and its founding companies are doing. This represents the worst type of corporate abuse in America. Companies like Peabody coal are raking in billions in profits, while leaving their own workers high and dry.[…]

Today’s decision is a setback, but it is not the end. We will continue to stand by coal miners and their families as they appeal the decision and until they receive the benefits they were promised, and the respect they deserve.

This article was originally printed in AFL-CIO on May 30, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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