Retired coal miners joined lawmakers from the Ohio Valley on Capitol Hill Wednesday for another attempt to protect miners’ pensions. Pensions are at risk because of a downturn in the coal market, the lingering effects of the 2008 recession, and coal company bankruptcies which have all reduced the amounts companies paid into a shared, or multiemployer, pension plan. The United Mine Workers of America is pushing Congress for legislation to shore up those retirement benefits.
The American Miners Act would transfer extra money from the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Program into a fund to support pension benefits. The bill was introduced earlier this year by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and six other Democrats.
“The superpower of the world is here because of the coal miners standing behind me. And we’re all benefited from this,” Manchin said. “So no matter what part of the country you’re from you should get on your knees every night and say a prayer for a coal miner.”
Manchin also called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to bring the legislation to a vote, noting that the idea has bipartisan support. A similar bill was introduced by Republican lawmakers from the region earlier this year.
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio also spoke to retirees at the Capitol Hill event.
“They were given a promise and it was a promise that when they retired they would get the benefit under their pension and it’s a modest benefit,” Portman said. “It’s actually one of the more modest benefits of any of the multiemployer plans we’re trying to help save.”
Portman is pushing for the Miners Pension Protection Act, which would also transfer funds to support the UMWA pension plan. The bill has been introduced in the house.