Protesting Kentucky Miners Could Get Some Overdue Pay From Bankruptcy Sale

Laid off miner Jeffrey Willig knows that taking part in the protest might hurt his future employment opportunities, but wants to be an strong example for his six children and fight for other miners who can’t protest themselves. “I was just like enough’s enough,” he said. “I’m not going to stand by and watch those guys and their families be affected the same way I am. They’ve gone through this time and time again. That’s when I felt like I needed to step up.” Photo: Curren Sheldon

This article was originally published by the Ohio Valley ReSource.

More than a thousand coal miners left unpaid by the abrupt bankruptcy of Blackjewel mining could soon be getting some – but not all – of the money they are owed.

Dozens of miners have staged a week-long protest on railroad tracks in Kentucky’s Harlan County, blocking delivery of a load of coal from a Blackjewel mine and demanding their pay. 

A federal court overseeing the Blackjewel bankruptcy Tuesday concluded the sales of the mining company’s properties and equipment, and buyers have put money toward paying some of the roughly $11.8 million in pay and benefits due to miners in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, most of whom have been without pay for a month.

“That won’t pay off all of the wages that are due,” labor attorney Sam Petsonk said, “but it’ll be a good downpayment.”

Petsonk, an attorney with West Virginia’s Mountain State Justice, is representing miners from Blackjewel’s eastern division. He said miners

“So additional wages and penalties damages that are owed to the workers will have to come through further litigation,” he said.

Presiding Judge Frank Volk approved the sale of the mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia. A proposal by Contura Energy for Blackjewel’s two Wyoming surface mines remains unresolved pending federal government approval.

Under an agreement by Kopper Glo Mining LLC to purchase Blackjewel’s Lone Mountain and Black Mountain mines in Kentucky, the company committed to set aside $450,000 to pay former employees owed wages. In addition, the company said it would provide up to $550,000 in additional money to the Kentucky miners from the royalties of the operations at Lone and Black Mountain mining complexes.

The company agreed to pay $6,350,000 cash for the properties as well as royalties for six years totaling more than $9 million. Kopper Glo also agreed to assume responsibility for some bonding liabilities.

Employees at West Virginia’s Pax mine are likely to get their full back wages. Buyer Contura Energy, based in Tennessee, said it will create a $5 million fund to pay the employees what they’re owed.

Rhino Energy LLC paid $850,000 cash and agreed to pay $208,000 in royalties over one year for some of Blackjewel’s Virginia mines.

Requests for comment to both Kopper Glo and Rhino Energy were not immediately answered.

It’s not clear if any of the new owners are obligated or plan to rehire Blackjewel employees.

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