FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Hundreds of miners with bankrupt coal mining company Blackjewel LLC will be getting back pay they are owed when the company abruptly closed the mine.
The company agreed in papers filed at federal Bankruptcy Court in Charleston, West Virginia, to pay $5.47 million who worked at their mines in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia.
“Payroll checks are expected to be issued this week,” Stephen D. Lerner, an attorney with Squire Patton Boggs, who represents Blackjewel, wrote in a Wednesday email to the Bristol, Va., Herald Courier.
For nearly four months, the miners have gone uncompensated for work completed in the weeks leading up to July 1, when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Employees reported paychecks issued around this time period bounced, leaving many with negative bank account balances after they had already paid bills at the start of the month. 658 Kentucky miners were among those affected.
Under Kentucky law, Blackjewel and other mining companies that have been doing business in the state for less than five consecutive years are required to furnish a performance bond to the Labor Cabinet to assure the payment of wages if the employer ceases operation. The bond amount should be enough to cover the company’s payroll for four weeks at full capacity.
After learning that Blackjewel failed to post the performance bond, Attorney General Andy Beshear said he would review a list of companies that have secured mining permits in Kentucky over the last five years to determine who was required to provide a performance bond under the law, then ensure the bonds have been filed with the Labor Cabinet.
After learning the miners would get their back paychecks, Beshear said, “These miners were betrayed not only by Blackjewel but by their own state government, which failed to enforce the law that could have protected their wages. Credit goes to our miners who stood strong and captured the attention of the whole country, which led to today's great news."
Gov. Matt Bevin, who is being challenged by Beshear in his re-election bid, also issued a statement.
“Our Labor Cabinet has worked diligently with the Trump Administration since July to ensure that the miners affected by the Blackjewel closing are rightfully compensated,” Bevin said. “ I am grateful that our perseverance has provided welcome and deserving news for the miners and their families. May we always appreciate the hard work of our coal miners, and may we always fight as hard on their behalf as they do to keep the lights on in our communities.”
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also commented on the coal miners receiving their backpay.
“The way Blackjewel has treated the miners is shameful, and I applaud the Trump administration and Governor Bevin for going to bat for our miners,” McConnell said. “From the beginning I’ve been in consistent communication with the U.S. Department of Labor, urging them to do everything possible to help dislocated mine workers in Eastern Kentucky.”
The abrupt closure led furloughed miners to block railroad tracks so the coal they had mined could not be shipped.
“Today is a great day and one we've longed to see come,” said Dan Mosley, Harlan County judge-executive. "The order that has been signed to pay miners the wages they're owed is the action we've all been tirelessly working toward since July. 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.”