Tens of thousands of coal miners are at risk of losing their pensions and healthcare benefits within the coming years – and these workers and their union are angling for any sort of help from the White House they can get.
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During a National Press Club speech in D.C. on Wednesday, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Cecil Roberts said he is “pleading” for President Trump to fire off just one tweet to bring attention to the issue.
“You know if he just tweeted, I mean, just make us 15 seconds of his day, that he felt that coal miners who were entitled to a pension should have it, I think that might be enough,” Roberts said.
According to the UMWA website, the plan provides pensions to almost 90,000 retirees – but there is now less than one active worker for every 12 retirees – meaning the plan is on the verge of “collapsing in the near future.”
Almost all of the companies that pay into the UMWA’s pension fund have filed for bankruptcy. About 22,000 workers are retirees of companies that have recently gone into bankruptcy, according to the union.
Those bankruptcies, combined with the financial crisis, have left the pension fund in critical shape.
The fund is projected to become insolvent between 2022 and 2023. However, it could do so much sooner should the last major employer contributing to the fund – Murray Energy – declare bankruptcy.
In July, coal miners went to Capitol Hill to ask Congress to fix their pension plans. There has been legislation proposed to protect current beneficiaries and tens of thousands of others who have vested for their pensions but have yet to begin drawing them.
Some have suggested that the failure of the UMWA fund would bring down the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which backstops pensions for workers when companies cannot pay them.
When asked about the status of the coal industry overall, Roberts added that “coal is not back.” Many of the jobs that have been created, he said, are in metallurgical coal mines, where coal is shipped to other countries to make steel.
To help the industry “dramatically,” he noted the U.S. should start making its own steel again instead of buying it from China.
According to data from the Energy Information Administration, coal-fired power plants in the U.S. remain “under significant economic pressure” as decommissioning and retirements are expected to continue.
The UMWA was the first labor union to negotiate benefits for its members.