Following a discussion draft introduced in June, the bill outlines that miners targeted for cut benefits would be eligible for the United Mine Workers of America’s 1993 Benefit Plan.
Whitfield said as many as 1500 workers and families in his Kentucky district could stand to lose health care through Patriot’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, with the producer having stated it would not be able to emerge from the reorganization without making significant changes to its obligations for retiree health care.
As a result, a bankruptcy court recently ruled that Patriot Coal was authorized to transition retirees into a voluntary employee beneficiary association.
Whitfield said there was uncertainty regarding the solvency and availability of the VEBA due to the UMWA’s recent appeal of the court’s ruling.
“It is critical that we protect the healthcare benefits of the thousands of Kentucky miners who have worked hard their entire careers to earn those benefits,” Whitfield said.
“That is why I have introduced the Caring for Coal Miners Act to ensure that the hardworking miners who took to the mines day in and day out don’t lose the health care that they have rightfully earned.”
Whitfield said he acknowledged there were challenges with retirees’ pensions but the most immediate concern was the availability of healthcare benefits.
“Protecting the healthcare benefits is just the first step in what may very well amount to a multifaceted process,” Whitfield added.
The bill has been co-sponsored by two Republican representatives from West Virginia – David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito.
Capito said she had met with West Virginia retirees and heard their concerns.
“It is important that as we continue to address the complicated issues that resulted from the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal Company that we find the best solutions moving forward,” she said.
“The Caring for Coal Miners Act ensures continued healthcare coverage for the retirees who are in danger of losing their benefits.
“It is also an important step forward in protecting the benefits that were promised to hardworking miners in states like West Virginia and Kentucky.”
UMWA president Cecil Roberts said Wednesday he would work with any party willing to do right by miners and thanked the three lawmakers for introducing the legislation.
“The UMWA looks forward to working with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle who have stepped forward to find a solution to this serious problem,” Roberts said.
“This isn’t about party or politics, this is about doing the right thing for these miners who gave so much to build our nation.
“I urge Congress to act – and act quickly, to pass legislation that meets their long-term needs.”