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TRUMKA: 'THE PROMISE HAS BEEN KEPT'; COAL FIELD HEALTH CARE CRISIS ENDS

TRUMKA: 'THE PROMISE HAS BEEN KEPT'; COAL FIELD HEALTH CARE CRISIS ENDS
 WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- A crisis which threatened to deny medical care to 220,000 retired coal miners and their dependents will end today with White House approval of the national energy bill. The legislation, to be signed today by President Bush, includes new financial guarantees for an ailing coal miner health benefits plan jointly initiated by the coal industry, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and President Harry Truman in 1946.
 Speaking in Washington, UMWA President Richard Trumka said approval of the retired coal mine benefit guarantees was a "historic breakthrough, not just for mine workers, but for all union families."
 "This represents the single biggest victory for the mine workers in 50 years," Trumka added. "Because of it, 220,000 men and women will live longer, happier and healthier lives.
 "In 1946, UMWA President John L. Lewis told America's coal mining families that this nation made a life-long commitment to their health and security. Today, I'm telling coal-field families that, thanks to their unity and solidarity, that commitment will continue to be honored and that the promise won by John L. Lewis has been kept," Trumka said.
 Under the terms of the legislation to be signed today, companies who had refused to honor their obligations to contribute to the employer-funded UMWA Health and Retirement Funds will be required to pay into the program once again. Additional financial support for the ailing medical benefits plan will be provided by earmarking dollars generated through an abandoned mine lands reclamation program. Under terms of the new law, surplus pension dollars will also be applied to easing the health fund's woes.
 In recent years, the health funds generated record high deficits and were nearing collapse as a result of increased bankruptcies within the coal industry and a refusal by many coal operators to honor past financial commitments to the funds. Earlier this year, a federal judge had ordered companies currently paying into the funds to increase their contribution rate. Trumka, whose union waged a three-year campaign for retiree health care guarantees, had warned that a failure to protect the benefits would trigger "chaos in the coal fields."
 The UMWA leader welcomed the White House's decision to sign the legislation, but pointed out that their support "wasn't driven by any compassion for America's coal miners, but by the desire to satisfy Sen. Jay Rockefeller and the UMWA's other supporters on Capitol Hill."
 Trumka said that the Bush administration, which initially opposed the UMWA's efforts and vetoed an earlier version of the measure, understood "that unless UMWA pensioners and widows' health care needs were satisfied, there would be no national energy bill."
 "Sen. Rockefeller showed that all it takes to make the difference for working people is one committed legislator who has the guts to stand up," Trumka said.
 The UMWA leader, who noted that his own parents depend on the fund's benefits, said passage of the benefit guarantees also represents "the first breakthrough ever by organized labor on the health care issue in Washington."
 Congratulating Trumka on the union's success, national AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said "the UMWA's victory demonstrates, once again, that government must -- and can -- play a crucial role in guaranteeing the basic right to health care."
 "As always, the remarkable unity and strength in purpose of UMWA families has shown our nation that solidarity works," Kirkland added.
 -0- 10/24/92
 /CONTACT: Jim Grossfeld of UMWA, 202-842-7240, or 202-625-7089/ CO: United Mine Workers of America ST: District of Columbia IN: HEA SU:


CK-MA -- NYSA007 -- 4467 10/24/92 14:12 EDT
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Date:Oct 24, 1992
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