Ohio mine workers seek pension relief on Capitol Hill (photos and video)
Thousands of retired mine workers who might lose their health care and pension benefits because of the coal industry's plight are seeking relief from Congress.
WASHINGTON D.C.. - Thousands of retired coal miners spent hours under withering Washington heat Thursday at a rally for legislation ensuring they'll get pension and health care benefits that could be cut as the coal industry declines.
Money to fund the retirement accounts of roughly 120,000 United Mine Workers of America retirees has dwindled as coal companies declare bankruptcy amid the rise of more environmentally friendly energy sources. Affected retirees live in states including Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Virginia and Alabama.
"We are here to show solidarity and that we mean business," said retired miner Bob Sowers of Zanesville, as he waited for the rally to start. "These people are 60, 70, 80 years old. This is the time when you need these benefits and they're going to take them away. It is not something we want free, it is something we've earned."
Another retired miner, Larry Henry of Coshocton, said former President Harry Truman promised their union retirement benefits and "cradle to grave" health care as part of a 1946 agreement to avert a strike.
A sign over the rally stage featured a photo of Truman and the words: "Keep the Promise."
The bill the miners want to pass would require that the federal government use tax dollars and an abandoned mine reclamation fund to bolster their pension accounts. It is backed by U.S. senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman of Ohio, all the state's Democratic House of Representatives members, and Ohio Republicans including Dave Joyce of Russell Township, Jim Renacci of Wadsworth and Bob Gibbs of Holmes County.
In a speech backing the bill, Brown accused Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of keeping the legislation from coming up for a vote, and said Republican and Democratic senators need to "put the heat" on McConnell to secure its passage.
"Congress shouldn't leave Washington until we keep the promises we've made to miners and their families," said Brown.
McConnell's office didn't respond to a request for comment, but Portman told the crowd the bill will go to the Senate floor "like a torpedo" if the Senate Finance Committee passes it by a large enough margin when it comes up for a vote there next week.
Portman says it makes sense for the government to keep the miners' pensions sound to avoid stressing the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which could be endangered if it had to assist the large number of miners at issue.
If the bill doesn't pass by itself, Portman said its supporters will try to include its language in an upcoming must-pass budgeting bill.
House of Representatives members told the crowd their legislative body is prepared to pass the measure if the House acts.
"This isn't some handout you're asking for, this was a decision you made when you were neogiting your contracts and we are going to fight to make sure you're going to get your money back," Niles Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan told the crowd. Read more..
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