The United Mine Workers of America returned to Capitol Hill this week as Congress mulls who will decide the fate of their pensions.
Party leaders in both chambers have yet to select the special joint committee tasked with shoring up pensions for roughly 1.5 million union workers, including 107,000 former UMWA miners (E&E Daily, Feb. 8).
Born out of the recent budget compromise, the panel — 16 members split evenly between House and Senate, Republican and Democrat — avoided another government shutdown fight over the issue.
The committee is instructed to come up with legislation by the last week of November. If at least five Democrats and five Republicans approve, the bill will be guaranteed an expedited floor vote without amendments.
After nearly a decade of camouflage-clad campaigning, the UMWA sees a crack of light at the end of the tunnel.
Democrats are solidly behind the push, and many Republicans have backed at least a UMWA fix, but selection of panel members will be vital as conservative groups have criticized pension action.
"The key is to get people on there that want to settle it," UMWA retiree Eddie Embry said yesterday. "Not somebody that wants to muddy the water and drag it out from now until November and then disband the committee."
Embry has made a dozen road trips — traveling about 17,000 miles — from western Kentucky to Capitol Hill in little over a year.
This time, UMWA members delivered letters from retirees unable to make the journey.
Dick Lucas, a UMWA retiree from West Virginia, noted pension money is important not only to people but rural areas where retirees represent a major portion of the population and keep many businesses afloat.
The pension funds aren't expected to go belly up until at least 2021, but the recent tumult in the coal industry has heightened fears.
"We're one bankruptcy away from being completely broke because we've had so many companies go into bankruptcy," shedding their pension obligations, Embry said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of UMWA retiree Dick Lucas.