Coal miners who went without pay when mining company Blackjewel declared bankruptcy this June are one step closer to receiving lost wages. The checks come weeks after some of the miners ended a long-running protest, and months after the federal Department of Labor first intervened to allege the company violated labor laws in the month before it folded.
Rumors of a deal circulated early this month, and in consent orders filed in U.S. district courts in Kentucky and Virginia, Blackjewel committed to pay more than $5 million to miners.
The bankruptcy drew widespread attention this summer when a group of Blackjewel miners blocked a train full of coal to protest unpaid wages. The protest lasted 59 days and ended after the last remaining miners found work or had to return to other obligations.
According to a press release from Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, more than 600 coal miners from Kentucky’s Black Mountain and Lone Mountain mines will receive pay following agreements between the coal company and the Department of Labor.
“This means a whole lot.” said Stacy Rowe, wife of former Blackjewel miner Chris Rowe. “Getting this check, it’s going to pay off some of the bills we owe, and it’s going to get us started when we start driving.”
Chris Rowe has taken a job as a truck driver since the bankruptcy. Blackjewel owes Chris about $6,000, Stacy said.
“Today is a great day and one we've longed to see come,” said Harlan County Judge Executive Dan Mosley in the release. "My heart is overjoyed for these hardworking folks who took a stand in a professional way to say workers shouldn't be treated this way.”
“Although we’re certainly relieved that these miners are finally getting paid, it took three and a half months, and that’s far too long,” said Ned Pillersdorf, an attorney who is representing Blackjewel miners in ongoing litigation.
Pillersdorf says the miners will continue to pursue additional claims against Blackjewel as well as its former CEO. The Kentucky Labor Cabinet said it will continue to pursue litigation against the company for failure to pay a performance bond.
It is unclear whether the checks scheduled to be delivered to Blackjewel miners will include compensation for lost health care benefits, child support payments, or paid time off.