CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Retired members of the United Mine Workers Union are growing anxious again as Congress has reached the month of April with still no movement on measures to permanently shore up their healthcare and pension benefits. UMWA President Cecil Roberts, speaking last week on Metronews Talkline, felt confident the legislation would come in time, but also lamented the process.
“We believe something will be done about the healthcare for 22,600 retirees and their dependents by the end of April because if that doesn’t happen, they will lose their health coverage,” Roberts explained. “I don’t believe the leadership on either side wants to see that happen.”
Congress approved an extension on the healthcare benefits in December which pushed the deadline to April 30. West Virginia’s Congressional Delegation has been among the strongest advocates for action, but so far the process has been slow.
“We’ve got bi-partisan support to this. It’s got to happen with respect to the healthcare,” Roberts said.
A separate issue on the pension benefits is running into some push back from more conservative members of Congress according to Roberts. The worry by some conservatives members of Congress is by issuing the benefits to retired miners on pension, retirees from other industries will feel entitled to the same treatment. Roberts said the difference is a promise made decades ago to the coal miner.
“No other group of workers were actually promised this by the United States government,” Roberts explained. “These people earned these benefits. This is not a handout. This is not welfare. This is something these people are entitled to because they worked for it and energized this nation.”
Supporters of the coal miners’ protection act have long sought an up or down vote on the measure on the floor of the U.S. House and Senate. It would be a slam dunk, according to Roberts, if that were allowed to happen.
“We all know how votes are taken. If a powerful person doesn’t want this, they can stall votes, prevent votes, or lean on people and tell them ‘Don’t vote for this.'” Roberts indicated. “But if there was a straight, clean vote on this, there’s enough votes here in my opinion to even get by the 60 vote requirement in the United States Senate.”