Thousands rally as 22,000 miners are threatened with cut off of health benefits

UMWA Plans March on Washington

Lexington, Kentucky–Over 5,000 miners rallied here last Tuesday to protest health benefit cuts threatened to happen before the end of the year.  Responding to the call of their union, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), miners came from seven states to gather at the convention center.  Some arrived with walkers, canes, wheel chairs, and oxygen tanks, giving tangible evidence of the toll on human health inflicted by the mining industry.

The UMWA reports that 22,000 retired union miners, widows or dependents would lose health care benefits at the end of the year if federal legislation they are backing isn’t enacted this year.  Retirement benefits are also at risk.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts told those assembled that union miners had spent their lives working in dangerous places to provide America’s electricity and steel and make it the most prosperous nation on earth.

“We have stood up for America, and it’s time America stood up for us!” said Roberts, “America owes us, and we will collect on that debt!”

Union miners said the promise of good health care and pensions dates to 1946, when the federal government promised benefits in resolving a labor dispute.

Roberts Calls for March on Washington with Civil Disobedience

Roberts announced at the rally that union members will march on Washington D.C. later this year and risk being arrested if that’s what it takes. He told miners to go home and find at least five others that would be willing to rally at the nation’s capital.

The UMWA is calling for passage of legislation in Congress, Senate Bill 1714 and House Resolution 2403, which would redirect existing appropriations to ensure health care benefits for retirees whose companies have gone bankrupt in the last 4 years, as well as prevent the UMWA pension fund from collapsing.  The Lexington Herald-Leader endorsed the proposed bills.

Solidarity Action:

Contact your two senators and ask them to support S 1714 and your representative and ask him/her to support HR 2403.   Call the US Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 and ask for your congresspersons by name.

This coal miners’ crisis is further testimony that collective bargaining power alone is insufficient to resolve the health care problem for unions and workers.  Workers and the nation must have a legislative solution.  If we are to protect and improve health care for workers, the labor movement must lead the battle for national single payer health care.

HR 676, a national single payer bill, would improve Medicare and expand it to everyone.  It includes all medically necessary care including dental and drugs with no co-pays and no deductibles.  It was introduced by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and has 62 co-sponsors.  If your union has not yet endorsed this bill, please do so!

Endorse HR 676:The sample resolution is here:  http://unionsforsinglepayer.org/tools/sample_resolution

Build the movement to make it happen!

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