Citizens United To Reform Bankruptcy Laws Blog

Saturday, March 12, 2005

ROCKEFELLER VOWS TO CONTINUE FIGHT FOR WORKERS’ AND RETIREES’ RIGHTS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After his amendment to protect the workers and retirees of bankrupt companies fell just short of passing the Senate, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) tonight pledged to continue fighting to make sure that these companies deliver on the promises they have made to their workers and retirees.
“People work their entire lives under the promise that they will receive a pension and health care from their companies,” said Rockefeller, Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Health Care. “Sadly we have seen some companies in the last few years use the bankruptcy courts to walk away from these promises.
“Our employees and retirees need better protections, and we will continue to fight to make sure that they receive these protections. Our workers and retirees should have the right to claim their fair share of the remaining assets of a company they helped build.”

“I am disappointed by tonight’s actions, but we have lost just this battle. We will win the war.”
Rockefeller’s amendment would have:

· Ensured Compensation for Retirees Who Lose Health Coverage. If an employer reduces retiree health care benefits as part of a bankruptcy plan, retirees and former workers would be entitled to cash compensation, in addition to the general unsecured claim they receive under current law. The compensation is designed to enable retirees and former workers to purchase comparable health insurance for another 18 months.

· Increased Workers’ Priority Claim Against Company Assets. The amendment would have allowed employees to recover more of the back-pay, vacation time, severance, or benefit payments that the company owes them at the time it declares bankruptcy. Current law grants an employee a priority claim of $4,925 against the company’s assets, but Rockefeller’s amendment would have increased the claim to $15,000.

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."