UPDATE | Miners react to bipartisan miner pension bill

By  | 

KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ/AP) -- UPDATE 11/6/19 @ 11:55 p.m.
Retired coal miner Rick Ryan was out taking his dog Bo to get his shots when he heard the most relieving news that he didn’t see coming.

The Kanawha County Commission plans to introduce a resolution announcing their support of the Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019.

“Well just to be truthful, when I seen it, I didn't believe it,” Ryan said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Wednesday that he would be co-sponsoring the Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019, potentially a big step in avoiding insolvency of miners' pension funds.

When Ryan heard the news, he had to make sure it was real.

“I had to read it again and I told my wife I said,” Ryan said. “It's saying that McConnell has signed on as a co-sponsor on the bill now. Now I went to the UMWA site and when I seen it was on there, released on that, I knew it was true.”

It's been a long difficult fight for Ryan and many other miners who have been fighting to keep their pensions for years, a burden that got much heavier when Murray Energy declared bankruptcy late last month.

“That was the last thing any of us wanted to hear,” Ryan said. “We didn't want Bob Murray to file bankruptcy and, as a matter of fact, I was in D.C. the week that we heard coming down that it was pretty likely that it was going to happen.”

According to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that was just the push that was needed to take action.

“I think it finally resonated that there's a lot of people going to be hurting with Murray Coal Company, that exasperated it, it accelerated it everything to a warp speed, if you will,” Manchin said.

No matter what it took to get here, Ryan is just relieved to see a clear path.

“I never thought I would see that,” he said. “It kind of makes your day a little bit better, knowing we have a better shot at having our pensions taken care of now.”

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.

UPDATE 11/6/19 @ 4 p.m.
The Kanawha County Commission plans to introduce a resolution announcing their support of the Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019.

The act, introduced Wednesday, is sponsored by U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, Shelley Moore Capito, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The act would require ‘shoring up’ the 1974 Pension Plan that is headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcy and the 2008 financial crisis and would ensure that miners at risk due to 2018 and 2019 coal company bankruptcies would not lose their healthcare.

Commission President Carper said, “For centuries, we have asked our West Virginia coal miners to risk their lives every day to provide energy supply to our country. We ask them to go to work in the most dangerous of environments; in return, they have been promised hard-earned pensions, as well as healthcare benefits when they reach retirement age.”

Some 87,000 retired coal miners and surviving spouses risk losing their pension if a bill is not passed.

(AP) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is co-sponsoring a bill with West Virginia's two U.S. senators and others aimed at preserving the pensions of about 92,000 retired coal miners and the health-care benefits of another 13,000 working miners.

Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia announced the bill Wednesday.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, says in the statement that he raised the issue of protecting miner pensions and health benefits with President Donald Trump this week, and is "committed to continuing to work with him and my colleagues" toward a solution.

The bill would transfer money from the Abandoned Mine Land fund to prevent the insolvency of a 1974 miners' pension plan, and add coal company bankruptcies from 2018 and 2019 to 2017 health-care legislation.