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11/19/2004

Reforming Federal Bankruptcy Laws

Today I am elated to announce that Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick Rahall (both of West Virginia) have introduced legislation to reform federal bankruptcy laws in hopes of finally putting a stop to large corporations from robbing their workers and retirees of their hard earned pensions, health care and jobs.

Although these bills have not passed, still the introduction to the houses of Congress are the starting point that will hopefully put an end to injustices like what happened to the coal miners of Horizon Natural Resources and what could be looming for workers of several major airlines that are threatening bankruptcy.

This is not a movement to reform bankruptcy laws that regular working folks like us sometimes find ourselves having to file, instead its to make sure huge Corporations are accountable for their workers pensions and retirement funds, health care coverage plans, union contracts and whatever else workers have earned from those companies instead of having them vanish with the stroke of a federal judge's pen.

The Horizon case set a disgusting precedent in the legal system that corporations did not have any accountability to their workers and retirees, no matter what the workers had earned it could be taken away...to say the least there is nothing fair about that. I saw people who worked 40 years lose their pensions (most lost an 80% cut in their earnings) and health care (many suffering from black lung and now have no other way to afford their treatments, medications and doctors visits).

Now other large companies like American Airlines, Delta, Adelphia and others are threatening to follow this trend. Although Horizon's workers were union, the judge's decision voided those union contracts and now other corporations are salivating and thinking they can do the same and start over the next day after the bankruptcy clears and hire non-union labor to replace everyone.

I'm not saying this to be melodramatic, but there is a serious chance any of could be next if a company we work for decides to file bankruptcy. No more pension, no more health care...nothing except maybe an HR department saying "Yeah he worked here once".

As many of you who read Resist Oppression know this issue of reforming bankruptcy laws is very personal to me because the Horizon bankruptcy left many of my family, friends and former neighbors of my hometown without anything to show for their years of service for Horizon.

Judge William S. Howard's ruling destroyed lives, hurt local economies and left the door open for other corporations to do follow in the footsteps of Horizon.

On September 1, 2004 I started Keep the Promise to the Coal Miners which was created in the after-math of the judge's ruling to allow Horizon to file bankruptcy. Myself with a small group of concerned citizens circulated petitions, met with lawmakers, wrote letters-to-the-editor, did interviews, spoke with community leaders and civic groups, rallied other unions and did anything we could to get HR 3796, a bill which would continue the 1946 Promise that Congress made to the Union Coal Miners of this country that they would have-cradle-to-the-grave health care coverage. We sent over 1,000 signatures to the Hill and by our records more than 60% of those who signed did not even know a coal miner or live in a coal community.

Although that bill is still pending in this lame duck Congress, many lawmakers are still fighting hard to attach the language of the bill to other bills out there in hopes of the Promise will still be kept to the miners.

I am pleased to announce as Director of Keep the Promise to the Coal Miners we will be joining the United Mine Workers of America in the fight to reform bankruptcy laws.

In the coming weeks we will be launching an Internet Dot.Com for the movement and will be beginning our first wave of action to reform this broken system of bankruptcy laws. I urge everyone out there to educate themselves on this issue and I make a plea especially to other union members to join in this fight because they've figured out a way to bust organized labor and we need to stand in solidarity in this fight no matter what union we belong to...because we all could be next.

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