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Saturday, March 12, 2005

UMWA Thanks Sen. Specter for efforts

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United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts Thanks Sen. Arlen Specter And Other Key U.S. Senators For Trying To Get Coal Act Amendment Attached To Federal Bankruptcy Legislation
Amendment Would Have Clarified Why Coal Act Supersedes Bankruptcy Judge's Decision, While Also Preventing More Coal Operators From Abusing The Bankruptcy Process

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil Roberts today praised U.S. Senator Arlen Specter's (R-Pa.) effort last night to attach an amendment important to America's coal miners to a broader piece of legislation being debated to overhaul America's bankruptcy laws.

The amendment was modeled after legislation introduced earlier this year by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). It clarified how the 1992 Coal Act contained a promise to UMWA coal miners of lifetime health care benefits, and how the legislation was intended to prevent coal operators from being able to walk away from their obligation to pay for their retired miners' health care benefitsBincluding through the bankruptcy process. The need for such an amendment was created in August, 2004, when a federal bankruptcy judge's ruling allowed Horizon Natural Resources to terminate its Coal Act obligations to some 5,000 UMWA active and retired miners and their dependents. The amendment had already received strong support from several other coalfield senators, including Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.).

Unfortunately, however, a few senators refused to allow the amendment on procedural grounds, prompting anger from Roberts and the UMWA.

"The UMWA is extremely frustrated and angered that this very important amendment was prevented from being attached to the federal bankruptcy overhaul," said Roberts. "The language was a natural fit for the bankruptcy legislation and should never have been tossed out for procedural reasons." He continued, "The Coal Act is a federal law, and every U.S. Senator should certainly understand that one judge's decision cannot be allowed to supersede the laws Congress creates. This amendment directly addressed that issue, and it should have been included in the larger bill. I guess some members of Congress just aren't that concerned about workers' issues as they apply to our nation's bankruptcy laws. That concerns UMWA members, and I'm quite sure it will also concern many more American workers."

Roberts thanked Sens. Specter, Rockefeller and all other supporters for their help, promising to continue working with them to get the amendment passed in some way, shape or form.

"This fight is far from over," promised Roberts. "The UMWA will continue to work closely with our friends in Congress to ensure that coal operators can no longer use the nation's bankruptcy courts to break their promises. We also believe this amendment could serve to pave the way to ensuring other working Americans are able to get a fair shake in bankruptcy court."

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