Thousands Of Coal Miners Could Lose Benefits Unless Congress Acts

Dec 2, 2016


On September 8, 2016, thousands of unionized coal miners rallied in Washington, D.C. to push for passage of the Miners Protection Act, which would shore up their health care and pension benefits.
Credit Jose Luis Magana / AP Photo

Time is running out for Pennsylvania coal miners. By January 1, 13,000 coal miners could lose their pensions and thousands their health care. Legislation called the Miners Protection Act would avert the loss of benefits, but the U.S. Senate has yet to schedule the bill for a vote.

Donnie Samms is director of Region 1 of the United Mine Workers of America, an area which includes Pennsylvania. He said it’s crucial for Congress to pass the bill and support miners. Spending years underground takes a huge toll on a person’s body, he said.

“We have members come in who are on pacemakers, they got arthritis, they got black lung, a lot of sickness,” he said.

In April of 1946, coal miners went on strike, calling for better wages, health benefits, and improved safety conditions. The strike stretched until December when John Lewis, the president of the United Mine Workers, and Julius Krug, the government’s coal mines administrator signed a deal. The U.S. government took over the mines and guaranteed certain conditions.

The Lewis-Krug agreement is referenced a lot in discussion of miners’ pensions and health care. Some argue that it guaranteed benefits to miners in perpetuity. Others argue that it guaranteed benefits only for the time the U.S. government ran the mines, which it stopped doing in 1947. But regardless of what Lewis and Krug set their names to, there have been numerous government interventions in miners’ benefits ever since.


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