This article was originally published by Ohio Valley ReSource.
The Department of Labor and a company associated with Blackjewel agreed this week to put nearly $5.75 million toward coal miners left unpaid in the company’s chaotic bankruptcy.
The July 1 bankruptcy of one of the nation’s largest coal companies left 1,100 coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia out of work and without weeks of pay. The potential deal comes after a nearly two-month-long protest by unpaid miners, who blockaded a railroad to stop over a million dollars worth of coal from leaving Harlan County, Kentucky. The U.S. Department of Labor intervened with a motion supporting the miners’ claim that delivering the coal would violate fair labor standards.
Ned Pillersdorf, an attorney representing miners in Blackjewel’s eastern division, said if the miners’ claims are not resolved soon, Harlan County and neighboring impacted counties could experience recessions in their already tenuous economies.
While the deal has not been formalized, Pillersdorf said he expects a firm commitment in the coming days. Pillersdorf said in exchange for the backpay, the Department of Labor will withdraw its motion to stop coal from leaving Harlan County over fair labor violations.
“I’m thrilled with the Department of Labor,” Pillersdorf said. “It’s a very positive step, and it sounds like it’s going to happen.”
The funds would likely come from Blackjewel Marketing and Sales Holdings, the entity that owns the approximately $1.4 million in coal the miners blockaded. But BMSH only has one customer: Blackjewel itself. And Blackjewel has long maintained it does not have the funds to compensate its former employees.
“I just hope it covers at least our bounced check,” said David Pratt Jr., a former Blackjewel miner who has not yet been paid for his last weeks of work for the bankrupt firm.
The Appalachian miners will proceed with claims against Blackjewel regarding their 401(k)s and vacation time, as well as their original wage claims. The agreement with the Department of Labor, however, would reduce the value of that claim.
A spokesperson for Blackjewel could not immediately answer a request for comment.
Further hearings to finalize the deal and pursue miners’ additional claims are being scheduled for later this month.