Monday, February 18, 2019

Discarded as unprofitable

Retired union members who worked at the local Kemmerer coal mine in Lincoln Country, Wyoming "likely lost their company health benefits" after Judge David R. Jones of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston ruled that the Westmoreland Coal Co.—now up for auction under bankruptcy proceedings—could eliminate retirement health care and a union contract in order to sell the mine.

Tom Clarke, who said that while he recognizes the nullification of the coal miners' health package and union contract is "painful," it's necessary for the sale to be worthwhile to an investor like him.

"It's a story," admitted Clarke, "of Wall Street versus the average person that fully expected after putting in a lifetime of work at the mine that they were going to have a certain pension and a certain health package."

And even though Clarke recognized that a retired coal miner's body has taken a beating from his career—"When you are 55, you feel like you are 70," he said—the healthcare benefits are simply too expensive to continue. "We can't afford that," Clarke said, "nor could anybody else."

While Clarke stated that covering retired miners was cost prohibitive, Mike Dalpiaz, vice president of United Mine Workers of America District 22, which represents the miners in Wyoming, told the Star-Tribune that if the miners are not taken care of by somebody, there would be a major revolt among the workers still employed at the mine.
"If we get them people taken care of, Tom Clarke doesn't have to take care of them," he said. "But, somebody is going to take care of them, or that coal is not going to be mined up there. It's about that simple."

Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—refused to allow a bill to protect miners' pensions receive a vote in the Senate. "We're dying like flies," said Billy Smith, a coal miner for 39 years said at the time.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, said the kind of joint behavior by bankrupt companies like Westmoreland and predatory investors like Clarke is a betrayal of workers who have risked their very lives while fulfilling their side of the economic agreements.

Michael Lighty, a fellow at the progressive Sanders Institute and former public policy director for the National Nurses United (NNU), said, "Because of the inherent health risks for mine workers, we can easily see the need for a health system that guarantees they get the care they need," Lighty explained. "Yet, the present U.S. system cannot consistently do that. Anyone of us could  suffer health consequences from our job, or be locked into a job we don't want because we need the health benefits. Only Medicare for All solves these problems, and provides the security workers need." 

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