Today, U.S Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced his support for the Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act of 2013 which would protect pension for retired coal miners. Currently some retirees are facing uncertainty because the United Mine Workers of America’s (UMWA) 1974 pension plan is severely underfunded and on the road to insolvency because of the 2008 financial crisis and reduced contributions to the plan. The 1974 plan covers more than 100,000 mineworkers. If the plan becomes insolvent, retirees could see dramatic reductions in their monthly pension checks. The legislation is intended to protect the promised pension and health care benefits of retired coal workers.
“Pennsylvania’s coal mining history stretches back to our state’s earliest days. Countless workers and families took on incredible risk to work in our mines and we have an abiding obligation to ensure their retirements are protected,” Senator Casey said. “This legislation is a commonsense approach that will create certainty for retired coal miners and their families.”
Currently, there are 12,202 UMWA members receiving healthcare and pension benefits in PA. Additionally, some non-dues paying members receive benefits from the multi-employer plan which are not counted, but are estimated to raise the number of Pennsylvanians directly helped by this bill to over 13,000. The UMWA provides 217.5 million dollars annually to the PA economy, mostly in the western part of the state.
Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act
Specifically, the bill would:
- Amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency
- Make retirees who lose health care benefits following the bankruptcy or insolvency of his or her employer eligible for the 1992 Benefit Plan, which was established under the Coal Act of 1992 to provide health benefits to retired or disabled miners and their families. Companies that originally promised these benefits would be held accountable for the costs and, if needed, additional funding from the Abandoned Mine Land fund would be available.
- Provide that employer contributions under the UMWA Retiree Bonus Trust are not unfairly penalized by the tax code and receive the same tax-exempt treatment as contributions to other pension plans, allowing the full value of employer cash contributions to go to the retirees who earned them. This Retiree Bonus Trust provides modest supplemental pension payments to retired miners.