The last thing Henry Zampedri wants is a handout.
Zampedri, a retired coal miner from Rock Springs, Wyo., wants what he says he's entitled to - health-care benefits for himself and 120,000 other retired coal miners and their spouses nationwide."We're not down here for charity. We earned this right to have our welfare intact. We want what's coming to us," Zampedri said Monday at a press conference at the Salt Lake International Airport. Zampedri was among five regional representatives of the United Mine Workers of America traveling to Washington, D.C., to lobby for legislation that would protect the retired miners' health-care and retirement plan.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., would assess a tax on companies that mine high-grade coal. The tax would support the health-care fund, which UMWA officials say is $100 million in debt. The legislation also would use pension funds to retire the fund's existing debt.
The health-care fund was established in 1946 to end a bitter strike that resulted in government seizure of coal mines nationwide. As part of the settlement, miners and their spouses were promised lifelong health-care benefits for working in the hazardous coal mines.
When the fund was formed, virtually all coal companies belonged to the Bituminous Coal Operators of America and paid into the fund. Now only 30 percent of the industry supports the program. BCOA members say the practice places an unfair burden on participating mining companies that pay the health-care cost of their employees and "orphans," miners whose companies have gone out of business, refused to negotiate contracts with the miners union or for other reasons have stopped contributing to the fund.
Unless a solution is reached, orphans could lose their health-care benefits when the miners' existing collective bargaining agreement expires in 1993.
"If they take it away, it will be a hardship for the people, especially the widows. They'll have no insurance at all," Zampedri said.
Wayne Owens, D-Utah, supports the measure, said Mike Dalpiaz, district president of the UMWA. The miners plan to meet with Utah Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch and Reps. Bill Orton and Jim Hansen to drum up support for the bill, which is expected to reach the Senate floor by Wednesday.
The coal miners, who will be joined by other retirees from throughout the country, will also participate in a rally at the U.S. Department of Labor to draw attention to the bill.