Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Miners Face Uncertainty, Push to Keep Retiree Benefits

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Miners Face Uncertainty, Push to Keep Retiree Benefits

Article excerpt

Speakers bashed energy corporations and promised to protect worker rights at a well-attended union rally held in Brookwood Wednesday.

The United Mine Workers of America rally was held to bolster support for federal legislation that would guarantee health care and pension benefits for miners, retired miners and their widowed spouses as their employer Walter Energy goes through reorganization in bankruptcy proceedings.

It has been unclear whether the company will honor the union contract with workers once the proceedings are finalized and the company's ownership changes hands.

The legislation, co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Terri Sewell, D- Birmingham, and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., would safeguard the benefits of more than 2,800 affected retired miners. Both representatives were greeted with hearty applause by more than 1,000 UMW members and supporters who descended on Brookwood City Park wearing union shirts and carrying signs reading "Keep the Promise" and "Are you next?"

"I see people out here who have given the best they can give to a company and then that company comes in and tries to screw them at the end of their career," Thompson said. "Something's wrong with that picture."

Miner Michael Goggins from West Blocton retired in 2005 after working at Jim Walter Resources Mine No. 4 for 32 years.

"We worked hard for our livelihood. The company was good to us. We felt like we kept our end of the bargain so they need to keep theirs," he said. "In America, that's what's right."

People arrived in buses from Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties. Groups of bikers traveled together down Alabama Highway 216 to get to the rally, where they were greeted with songs like "Born in the USA" and "Sixteen Tons" blaring over a loudspeaker.

The cheers and chants of "UMWA!" escalated when the union's International President Cecil Roberts took the stage, encouraging people to contact congressional leaders and pressure them to support the legislation.

"This isn't radical, we're just asking people to do what they said they were going to do, and that's to take care of these people," he said. "Some of these people are 75, 80, 85 years of age and couldn't come here today because they're so ill. …

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