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U.S. Lawmakers Devise Legislation to Require Coal Companies to Honor Employee Pensions and Benefits


first_imgU.S. Lawmakers Devise Legislation to Require Coal Companies to Honor Employee Pensions and Benefits FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Naomi Jagoda for TheHill.com:The leader of a union for coal industry workers on Tuesday urged senators to act quickly on legislation that would help retired miners and their families who are in danger of losing their pension and healthcare benefits.“I think the coal miners in this country have been promised these benefits, these coal miners in this country have earned these benefits,” Cecil Roberts, international president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.Coal industry employees and their beneficiaries are provided retirement, disability and survivors benefits through the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan, which is federally guaranteed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Retired coal miners can receive retiree health benefits through one of three multi-employer plans.But the program is approaching insolvency due to losses during the financial crisis and the wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry. Roberts said that 21,000 people could lose their health benefits by the end of the year if Congress doesn’t act.A bill introduced last year by West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin (D) and Shelley Moore Capito (R) would transfer excess funds from the Abandoned Land Mine Fund to the pension plan. It would also allow some retirees who lose health benefits because their former employer have become bankrupt or insolvent to join one of the multi-employer health plans. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House.The legislation has bipartisan support. Both Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are in favor of it.Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said coal miners are “hard working guys who deserve better than their getting from their pensions.”The Washington Post reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) prevented a fix for the pension and health benefits issue from being included in the spending package enacted in December.“Senator McConnell has been and remains committed to helping ensure the retirement security of our nation’s coal miners as well as other retirees, and discussions are ongoing on how best to address this challenge,” McConnell’s office told The Hill.“He continues to believe this is a very important issue that deserves open, transparent debate through regular order. To that end, he appreciates the Senate Finance Committee holding a public hearing today to examine a number of challenges in the multi-employer pension world, including how to help current and retired coal miners.”The problems facing the miners are part of a broader trend of multi-employer pension plans being severely underfunded.When multi-employer plans default, the PBGC pays pensions to retirees up to a certain amount. But a default from the UMWA plan and others could lead to the PBGC itself to go bankrupt.In 2014, Congress passed the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA), which was included in a spending bill. The MPRA allows plans that are headed toward insolvency to reduce benefits if they get approval from the Treasury Department. These cuts would still allow retirees to receive more than they would from the PBGC.Already, the Central States Pension Fund, which benefits Teamsters, has applied to Treasury to make cuts. Rita Lewis, a widow of a retired Teamster from Ohio, testified that the proposed cuts to the Central States plan could reduce pension benefits by as much as 40 to 70 percent.Full article: Miners union pleads with senators for pension fixlast_img

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