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1/28/2005

UMWA backs Bankruptcy Reform Legislation

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts Praises Today's Re-Introduction of Legislation in the U.S. House and Senate That Would Prevent More Coal Operators From Terminating Miners' Promised Coal Act Benefits By Declaring Bankruptcy

Legislation Prompted By What Happened last Year in Federal Bankruptcy Court to Thousands of Horizon Natural Resources Coal Miners and Their Dependents

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil Roberts is praising today's re-introduction in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate of legislation targeted at preventing coal operators from using federal bankruptcy laws to terminate federally promised lifetime health care benefits to the miners they employ. The legislation was prompted by an Aug. 31 ruling in federal bankruptcy court in Lexington, Ky., that allowed Horizon Natural Resources to terminate the health care benefits of some 2,000 retired miners and their dependents covered under the federal 1992 Coal Act.

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va) both re-introduced their bills today, as is required when a new session of Congress commences. Each had introduced similar legislation in their respective bodies in November 2004.

"The UMWA is very thankful that our friends in Congress are once again working with us to rectify the travesty of justice that occurred last year in Lexington," said Roberts. "One of the primary reasons Congress passed the Coal Act in 1992 was to prevent coal operators like Horizon from being able to walk away from their obligation to provide lifetime health care benefits to the miners they employed-through the courts, through bankruptcy, or by whatever means. The principal focus of Rep. Rahall's and Sen. Rockefeller's legislation is that bankruptcy law-or any other law for that matter-should not be allowed to supercede the Coal Act. Hopefully, their bills will help confirm Congress's intent to the courts, which would be a huge help to our campaign to prevent any more Horizons."

Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), whose congressional district is home to many displaced and wronged Horizon miners and retirees, is already on board as a co-sponsor of the House legislation.

Roberts reminded that the UMWA continues to pay for the health care of all the displaced Horizon miners and that it will do so through March 2005.

"The UMWA is spending millions of dollars to provide our Horizon members with a temporary cushion during this very difficult time," said Roberts. "It is the right thing to do, but the fact of the matter is the Union should have never been put in this position. Congress promised miners lifetime health care benefits-as did Horizon-and it remains up to Congress to see that the funding is there to fulfill its promise."

He continued, "The UMWA is already mobilizing our members for a full-scale grassroots lobbying effort in support of the Rahall/Rockefeller legislation. We intend to remind every member of Congress-new and old, and particularly in America's coalfields-about the promise made to coal miners more than 50 years ago."

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