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Blackjewel, Careless or Criminal?

image credit: ID 20980125 © John Wollwerth |

Today, residents and neighbors of Blackjewel miners are showing their support by marching from Eastern Kentucky University Campus to the local community’s middle school.  

  • On June 28, Blackjewel issued paychecks to its miners.
  • On July 1, US coal giant Blackjewel, LLC and affiliates declared bankruptcy.  Filing this abrupt Chapter 11 left some 1,800 workers unemployed.  According to a court record the company requested approval for a loan July 1 that would have covered payroll.  When that request fell through, banks that had credited Blackjewel checks to miners’ accounts couldn’t get paid. The banks deducted the money from miners’ accounts during the first week of July, leaving them not only out of work but overdrawn by $1,000 or more in many cases because they had paid bills with the money.
  • On July 29, about 50 coal miners in Cumberland, Kentucky, banded together to stop a moving train. They blocked the tracks, refusing to allow the train, carrying $1 million worth of coal, to pass.  Miners continue to block train tracks carrying coal from the mine and have yet to be compensated for their last 3 weeks of work.  “If they can load a train out, they can give us our money,” miner Shane Smith said plainly.   State laws should protect workers but this incident has exposed a flaw in the system.  The Labor Cabinet requires companies operating for less than five years to furnish a performance bond to the Labor Cabinet “to assure the payment of all wages due from the employer.”  The cabinet has many such bonds on file, but not all companies comply, said Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary David A. Dickerson, describing the rule as self-policing.  However, the cabinet has acted aggressively to issue the maximum fine against Blackjewel for failing to post the bond.
  • Today, August 17, the standoff continues. 

The cabinet issued a formal citation dated July 30 to Blackjewel and its former CEO Jeff Hoops, who resigned amid the bankruptcy, for violation of the law.  Hoops did apologize in an interview with NPR saying “I'm really, really sorry that it's reached this point.”  A citation lists a penalty of $366,500 and if the company does not respond to the citation with 15 business days, the cabinet will initiate a civil action to collect the penalty.  Dan Mosley, Harlan County Judge-Executive, commended the Labor Cabinet for pursuing penalties against Blackjewel, saying that Dickerson, the Labor Cabinet secretary, "has been on this since day one" and has worked tirelessly to make sure miners are paid the wages they're owed.  The bankruptcy court is working with employees to allow immediate access to 401(k) retirement funds.  Until then, expect to see miners and locals alike,  blocking train tracks, marching and protesting to show their support.  While blocking the track, miner Bobby Sexton told NPR, “I don't know if I'll go home if they don't pay us. I'll sit here till whenever.”

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