CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Sen. Joe Manchin and leaders with the United Mine Workers are expressing concern about the effects of today’s announced bankruptcy of coal giant Murray Energy.
The company employs about 5,500 people, including about 2,400 active union members.
Murray’s filings in bankruptcy court showed $2.7 billion in debt and more than $8 billion in actual or potential legacy obligations under various pension and benefit plans.
The mine workers union, in a statement, suggested its agreements with Murray Energy will be victims of the bankruptcy process. The union also said the bankruptcy is likely to adversely affect the fragile standing of miners’ health care and pensions.
Manchin, in his own statements on social media and cable television, echoed the concerns about how the bankruptcy would affect a national pension agreement that has been troubled for years.
The senator introduced a bill called “Stop Looting American Pensions” and described it in a floor speech.
“The SLAP Act ensures all workers, union and non-union, are treated fairly when a company files for bankruptcy and ends the inequities of the current system,” Manchin said on the Senate floor.
Murray Energy announced its bankruptcy filing this morning after a month of hinting at reorganization.
MORE: Murray Energy declares bankruptcy, shifts founder Bob Murray to board chairman role
Murray is seeking a Chapter 11 reorganization. Murray intends to continue operations during Chapter 11 with cash on hand plus $350 million new money from the lending group, subject to bankruptcy court approval.
A statement from the United Mine Workers said agreements with the union are likely to be sacrificed during the bankruptcy process.
“Now comes the part where workers and their families pay the price for corporate decision-making and governmental actions. Murray will file a motion in bankruptcy court to throw out its collective bargaining agreement with the union,” stated UMW President Cecil Roberts.
“It will seek to be relieved of its obligations to retirees, their dependents and widows. We have seen this sad act too many times before.”
.@MineWorkers President @CecilRoberts joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss Murray Energy bankruptcy and the Miners Pension Act in Congress. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIAoe1 pic.twitter.com/glInA3Qp6K
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) October 29, 2019
Roberts said the filing changes nothing as far as the current terms and conditions of employment. He said retirees should also expect their health care’s continuation, at least until bankruptcy is concluded.
But Roberts expressed worry about how the bankruptcy could affect pensions over the long haul.
“This is also the final shoe to drop in the battle to preserve retired miners’ health care and pensions,” he stated.
“We have been warning Congress for more than a year that this day was coming. Let this finally be the catalyst that spurs action this year on Capitol Hill. There truly is no more time to wait.”
Manchin, who has been pushing for years to extend federal support for a national pension plan for miners, expressed similar concern today.
Murray Energy, the largest coal company in the United States, filed for bankruptcy. If Murray rejects the UMWA pension plan obligations in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the UMWA pension fund will be insolvent by 2020. Before last night it was projected to be insolvent by 2022.
— Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) October 29, 2019
Manchin spoke about the situation this morning on cable news and then on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“If you look at what’s happening, our pensions are unraveling,” Manchin said.
He said the underfunded coal industry pension programs were predicted to default by 2022 but now that would move up to 2020. Manchin said federal funding is available through federal abandoned mine land funds.
Speaking specifically about the Murray bankruptcy filing, Manchin said, “That means the pensions are at stake.”
.@Sen_JoeManchin joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss the ensuing issues with miner’s pensions after Murray Energy files for bankruptcy. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIAoe1 pic.twitter.com/r4TGC8K1zj
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) October 29, 2019
The West Virginia AFL-CIO chimed in this morning in support of shoring up miners’ pension plans.
“As West Virginians brace for the consequences of yet another billionaire corporation taking steps to force workers to pay for years of placing profit above all else, the West Virginia AFL-CIO urges Congress to secure miners’ health care and pensions,” stated Josh Sword, president of the organization.