- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Thousands of retired coal miners at a rally in Lexington called on Congress to protect their benefits as the industry struggles and operators seek bankruptcy protection from debts.

United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts told the gathering of about 4,000 members from seven states on Tuesday that miners spent their lives working in dangerous mines to provide the nation’s electricity and steel. Roberts says the miners, some who arrived in wheelchairs, don’t deserve having their benefits put in jeopardy.

Roberts said “America owes us, and we will collect on that debt.”

The union says about 22,000 retired union miners would lose benefits if federal legislation they are touting isn’t enacted this year.

Recent bankruptcies and a depression in the coal market have decreased contributions to the pension fund by two-thirds from last year’s levels.

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