June 24, 2016
By Mike Smith
Lexington, Kentucky. Over 5,000 miners rallied here last Tuesday June 14th to protest health benefit cuts threatened to happen before the end of the year.
Responding to the this crisis affecting members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), miners came from seven states to gather at the convention center. Some arrived with walkers, canes, wheel chairs, and oxygen tanks, giving tangible evidence of the toll on human health inflicted by the mining industry.The UMWA reports that 22,000 retired union miners, widows or dependents would lose health care benefits at the end of the year if federal legislation they are backing isn’t enacted this year. Retirement benefits are also at risk.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts told those assembled last Tuesday, that union miners had spent their lives working in dangerous places to provide America’s electricity and steel and make it the most prosperous nation on earth. “We have stood up for America, and it’s time America stood up for us!” said Roberts, “America owes us, and we will collect on that debt!” The promise of good health care and pensions dates to 1946, when the federal government promised benefits in resolving a labor dispute. Roberts announced at the rally that union members will march on Washington D.C. later this year and risk being arrested if that’s what it takes. He told miners to go home and find at least five others that would be willing to rally at the nation’s capital.
The UMWA is calling for passage of legislation in Congress, Senate Bill 1714 and House Resolution 2403, which would redirect existing appropriations to ensure health care benefits for retirees whose companies have gone bankrupt in the last 4 years, as well as prevent the UMWA pension fund from collapsing. This coal miners' crisis is further testimony that collective bargaining power alone is insufficient to resolve the health care problem for unions and employees. Many believe that a national single payer health care program is needed and HR 676 should be passed by Congress.