Thousands of miners rally over pensions, health benefits
WAYNESBURG, Pa. (AP) — Thousands of miners and their supporters rallied Friday in southwestern Pennsylvania in a show of solidarity to safeguard their pensions and health benefits.
Holding signs reading "solidarity" and "We are ... One," the marchers, organized by the United Mine Workers of America, started at Greene County Airport and ended over a mile away at the Greene County Fairgrounds.
Organizers said it was a "demonstration of solidarity" as the coal industry struggles with downsizing and bankruptcies.
UMW said it is concerned that abundant supplies of natural gas and environmental regulations on coal-burning plants have combined to drive down demand for coal.
This week, Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources asked a bankruptcy court to break the company's contract with the 580 union employees at its Cumberland Mine, end its pension contributions and reduce its obligation to retiree health care benefits.
Although judges can void contracts in bankruptcy court, the union said it must still agree to work under any amended contracts.
UMW President Cecil Roberts told the crowd at the fairground "bankruptcy is just a way for corporations to rob the workers of everything they have earned," according to the (Washington) Observer-Reporter.
"We've got to stand together on this and fight for this," he said. The company can sell the assets but "these are our jobs."
He said the union's lack of endorsement in this presidential election year is because no candidate has offered a plan for coal miners.
"I haven't heard one candidate stand up and say 'This is my plan for coal miners to have jobs. This is my plan for retirees to have health care. This is my plan for pensioners to have pensions," Roberts said. "Until somebody does that, we will not endorse anybody."
Leaders of several other unions also spoke to the crowd, offering their support in the fight, including Terrence Melvin, president of the Black Trade Unionists and an ordained Baptist minister.
"This is not the time, this is not the season to give back health care; this is not the time, this is not the season to give back pensions," he said. "We have worked for them and we are not giving them back."