Beckley - A West Virginia politician is planning to introduce a new act to help retired coal miners who are in danger of losing their health benefits due to an underfunded pension plan and the potential bankruptcy of Patriot Coal.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who recently announced his retirement, said he plans to introduce the Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act. He, along with Rep. Nick Rahall and United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts, met with retired miners to discuss their concerns.
“I feel like I’ve been robbed of my security. I feel like a bunch of dope heads came into my house in the middle of the night, beat my wife, beat me, left us for dead, took all our valuables, set our house on fire on the way out, and somehow miraculously we survived,” said Ronald Gilbert Ball, who mined for nearly three decades. “That’s how I feel.”
Ball said he has a shot back, a disc injury, is borderline diabetic, and only has one testicle due to the work he put in over the years at various mines. He and others said they have no way of paying for the treatment of their injuries.
“Social security will not pay all our bills, and what little savings we got will not last very long,” Ball told WOAY. “The benefits is the main reason why you done it. I could have been self-employed and made a whole lot more money.”
“You’re promised a salary, and what if you didn’t get paid? Wouldn’t you find that upsetting?” he asked.
Passage of the bill would transfer funds to the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan and also make any retiree who loses benefits following the bankruptcy eligible for a different benefit plan, according to the senator.
“It stipulates that it has to come from the coal companies because if it doesn’t come from the coal companies in the case of pensions, everything falls on something called the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which is about broke, and that’s called taxpayer money,” Rockefeller said.
If nothing is done, miners are worried the lack of payment will set a bad example for the country.
“Every other corporation in the world will sit back and try to do the same thing,” Ball said. “It’s human nature for a lot of people to be greedy.”
He had a message for Patriot Coal, whose bankruptcy he believes is a fraud.
“Straighten up. You need to be in jail right beside Bernie Madoff is my opinion, for at least 20 years,” Ball told WOAY.
UMWA's 1974 Pension Plan covers more than 35,000 West Virginians. About 7,000 West Virginians would lose their health benefits if Patriot Coal goes under, Rockefeller's camp said.