My husband is a retired union coal miner. He went underground to work mining coal the first time at 18 years old. He left the for the last time just a couple of months short of forty years later. He like so many boys did not know they had a choice, that there was a whole big world out there full of occupations they could pursue. Not having been born and raised in Kentucky I did not have an understanding of what it meant to be a coal miner or the family of one. At the expense of showing my ignorance, when I first moved to Kentucky I was not even aware that they still mined coal nor did I have any idea what it was used for. That all changed when I became a coal miner’s wife and my introduction to the world of coal mining began.
The first thing I learned was the primary use for coal was the production of electric and that every American in our country benefited from the luxuries it afforded. The second was that mining coal is dirty, nasty work and extremely dangerous. It can take up to 45 minutes to an hour to get to your work location in vehicles they call man trips and once you are underground, you are underground until the shift is over, usually in twelve hours. With the exception of a few lights and the battery operated light each miner wears attached to their hard hat it is pitch black underground. The air quality is bad and despite the governments denials, black lung is still alive, active and claiming the lives of coal miners. Since medical attention is so far away and danger is a part of daily life, each shift has trained EMT personnel and disaster teams ready to assist should the need arise. It is common knowledge in areas such as ours that a coal miner’s life span is much shorter than that of general population. As dismal as this sounds, it is a vast improvement of what it was like to work in a coal mine prior to the United Mine Workers of America organization. Prior to that the coal companies owned the coal miner’s lock, stock and barrel, even owing the stores they shopped at.
In addition to humane working conditions and fair wages, the UMWA also negotiated for health insurance for the coal miner’s and their families. In 1946 President Harry Truman and Congress made a promise to the coal miners they and their families would never be without health insurance. It was commonly called cradle to grave insurance. As I write this currently all the retired coal miners, their wives, widows and any dependent children have 23 days left of health insurance and then it is gone. A bill to protect the promise to these men and women who have given the best part of their lives to this industry has been in the Houses and Congress for a very long time, but they have for one reason or another failed to vote on it. The insurance was due to expire December 31, 2016; however they were granted an extension at the last-minute and assured that it would come to vote before the April 30, 2017 deadline. Now congress is due to go out again and not only has there been no vote, there has been no reprieve.
I have struggled as a Christian with worry over facing the fact that as it looks now by the end of the month we will have no health insurance. I worry not only for us, but for all the others that will be affected who have all kinds of various diseases and are dependent on treatments and medications to survive. Many, such as in our case are not eligible for medicare and The Affordable Care Insurance is simply not an option unless you are a multi-millionaire and do not need insurance to cover medical costs. I know that God will work all this out, but the earthly part of me who knows what medical issues we both have is scared and afraid and angry. The coal miners labored hard many years sacrificing their health and bodies to provide a modest living for their families and each and every American has had a better life because of it. Please pray for all of the families of the retired union coal miners who are about to be tossed out to the curb with the trash because they have served their purpose and no longer needed.
Until we meet here again, I pray God bless you and keep your loved ones safe.