July 9, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Washington, DC – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been stalling a bill intended to preserve the United Mine Workers of America’s endangered multiemployer pension fund, say supporters of the measure.
The fund, which provides health care and pensions to about 120,000 retired coal miners, has “too few assets, too few employers, and too few union workers now paying in,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told the Senate in June. The bill, the Miners Protection Act, would transfer surplus money from a coal-mine cleanup program to the UMWA pension fund. It’s drawn bipartisan support, particularly from senators from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and West Virginia, but a McConnell spokesperson said the Majority Leader believes the bill should wait and go through “regular order.” McConnell “has opposed this because he doesn’t like the United Mine Workers,” said Brown. “We could win this on a straight up or down vote.” The UMWA strongly supported McConnell’s Democratic opponent in the 2014 election. Coal miners’ pensions have been guaranteed by the federal government since 1946, when then-President Harry Truman’s administration promised it to help avert a strike, but the fund has been battered by the 2008 recession, the decline of the coal industry, and the growth of nonunion mines. “If we don’t get new money into this pension plan through this legislation within the next 12 to 18 months,” said UMWA government affairs director Phil Smith, “that fund will be past the point of no return.” Read more