People’s Tribune: Chuck, what is going on with the miner’s benefits?
Chuck Nelson: Back in 1946, Truman said if miners go back to work and mine the coal to build the steel to win the war, the government would give lifetime healthcare after 20 years in the mines, as a UMWA member. Now they want to take our healthcare away. We’ve been writing Congress and senators. We’re going to DC to target people in the Senate Finance Committee, where the bill is. The senators need to hear our stories.
PT: How are the Democrats and Republicans lining up?
CN: Most of our support is backed by the Dems, not so many Republicans support the working person. Mitch McConnell (Republican and Speaker of the Senate), from a coal producing state, (KY), does not support the bill. They’re all playing politics. Our Senator Joe Manchin, a so-called Democrat, had an opportunity to help the miners in the past, but he always supports the industry. The companies walk all over the miners, take and take until you have nothing left to take.
Our governor, Jim Justice, who ran as a Democrat, is a coal operator. What they’re doing on the Federal level, dismantling of the EPA, rolling back regulations, is happening here too. It’s all politics. Manchin is worried about the upcoming election. If he could get something for the miners, he could get lots of votes. But he’ll jump ship. He’s, rubbing shoulders with Trump. It’s the same old political game.
We heard rumors they’re talking about a settlement. I think if they do, it will be another extension. It’s good to have it a bit longer, but creates uncertainties. A lot of us have illness in our family. I was really sick last year, liver and kidney failure, cancer on top of my head. I was on dialysis. I had 12 surgeries. I incurred a lot of doctor bills. The benefits are not as good as before the coal companies filed bankruptcy. We’re worried too about losing our pensions. A lot of widows depend on it. I’m running a paper route trying to take care of my doctor bills.
The coal companies were required by law, to pay into a health and retirement fund, but with the dip in coal, the companies used the courts to file bankruptcy and get out of their liability. Alpha National Resources, one of the biggest coal companies, filed bankruptcy in 2015 and terminated the miners’ health care. The day before filing they gave the CEO a $10 million bonus check. And they’re still in our backyard mining coal. Peabody and Arch Coal created a company, knowing it would fail called Patriot Coal Company and dumped all the retirees’ liability onto them, to get out of paying the miners’ healthcare. The Federal courts go along with this. Manchin’s daughter is CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals. She made $19 million last year, while raising the price of the medicines. It’s all connected. Alpha is the major company, doing Mountain Top Removal. Health studies show that people living around these operations have a high rate of cancer, birth defects, kidney problems—the water is filled with heavy metals, arsenic and chemicals used in cleaning coal. Now that they’re rolling back regulations, they can pollute more. None of them care about the workers, or the environment. Government should be held accountable. People are not getting information. We need more education. Education is a huge task.
Next month, Chuck Nelson discusses why he was blacklisted, non-union mines, why West Virginia went for Trump, and corporate-government collusion in the destruction of an environment and people’s lives in the name of profit.