GOP Senate Leader Blocking Bill to Extend Promised Health Care to Retired Coal Miners

Posted Nov. 30, 2016

MP3 Interview with Ron Pauley, retired union miner working for congressional passage of the Miners Protection Act, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


A New York Times editorial on Nov. 28 scolded Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for his refusal to support legislation called the Miners’ Protection Act. In the wake of major shifts in the coal industry and many bankruptcies, coal companies have, in many cases, been released from their obligation to guarantee cradle-to-grave health care for their union employees. Those benefits were won in 1946 through negotiations between then President Harry Truman and the powerful president of the United Mine Workers of America at the time, John L. Lewis.

The proposed legislation would shore up United Mine Workers of America pension and health benefits programs that are headed toward insolvency because few coal companies pay into the programs that, at the same time, have seen a growth in the numbers of beneficiaries. The program would be funded not through tax dollars, but through some of the interest that’s accrued on the more than $3 billion in the government’s Abandoned Mine Land Fund.

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On a trip to West Virginia in August, Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus met Ron Pauley, a retired union miner who worked almost 34 years in underground and surface mines and in coal prep plants. He has been lobbying hard for the bill, which has yet to pass in the U.S. Senate. Tuhus reached him by phone to discuss the status of the bill, how the legislation would benefit miners and the campaign to gain congressional passage. He also comments on the dubious promises of President-elect Donald Trump to revive the U.S. coal industry.

For more information on the Miners Protection Act, visit the website of the United Mine Workers of America at [Editor's note: "Met coal" is short for metallurgical coal, a high-grade coal used in steelmaking and the bulk of which is produced in southern Appalachia. "Steam coal" is coal used in power plants.]

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