U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today introduced the Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act that would protect the promised lifetime pension and health care benefits of hundreds of retired Ohio coal miners whose livelihoods and those of their families are in jeopardy.
"Ohio's coal miners work hard every day and deserve the pensions and health care benefits they were promised," said Brown. "This bill would ensure that the benefits earned by miners and their families are protected and that employers are held accountable for the promises made to its employees."
The act seeks to provide certainty and peace of mind to retirees and their families while holding employers accountable for the commitments they make to their workers. Some retirees are facing uncertainty because the United Mine Workers of America's (UMWA) 1974 pension plan is severely underfunded and on the road to insolvency because of the 2008 financial crisis. The 1974 plan covers more than 100,000 mineworkers, including hundreds of Ohioans. If the plan becomes insolvent, retirees could see reductions in their monthly pension checks.
In addition, Patriot Coal, which was spun-off from Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, has filed for bankruptcy and could shed its obligations to retirees. This means more than 12,000 retired miners and dependents, the vast majority of whom actually worked for Peabody and Arch -- would lose health benefits, and the 1974 pension plan would be further destabilized.
The Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act would:
Amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency.
Make Patriot's union retirees and other union retirees who lose health care benefits following the bankruptcy or insolvency of his or her employer eligible for the 1992 Benefit Plan, which was established under the Coal Act of 1992 to provide health benefits to retired or disabled miners and their families. Companies that originally promised these benefits would be held accountable for the costs and, if needed, additional funding from the Abandoned Mine Land fund would be available.
Provide that employer contributions under the UMWA Retiree Bonus Trust are not unfairly penalized by the tax code and receive the same tax-exempt treatment as contributions to other pension plans, allowing the full value of employer cash contributions to go to the retirees who earned them. This Retiree Bonus Trust provides modest supplemental pension payments to retired miners.
Brown is one of four co-sponsors of the bill along with Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).