HARLAN COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Coal miners in Harlan County have made it clear that they are not leaving the railroad tracks where they are protesting until they get the money they are owed.
"They're loading trains. Selling coal. Why can't they pay us?" Gary Amburgey, one of the miners, asked. "We're just tired of it. We want our money. It's simple as that."
The coal company the miners worked for, BlackJewel declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the beginning of July, saying that they would need around $6 million to pay their employees. This has affected hundreds of miners and their families who are struggling to make ends meet. Even with donations that have been made, miners have told LEX 18 that they are falling behind on their bills, facing decisions such as paying the electric bill to keep the lights on, or paying the car payment to have transportation.
"About to lose our houses. Power's turned off. Many issues that shouldn't be here right now," Amburgey told LEX 18 in a previous interview.
It has been weeks since the miners' final paychecks bounced and now the workers are protesting to get payment for their labor. The protesters, made up mainly of miners and their families, are camped out on the train tracks near Cumberland to block coal trains from passing.
They hope that their peaceful protest works and they will get the money they worked for, but according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the miners, they and the attorney representing them believe that the bankruptcy is fake. They believe it is a scheme to avoid paying wage earners.
Attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who filed the class action lawsuit, said that if this bankruptcy goes through, the miners still may not get their money.
"Bankruptcy court is not a good place if you're a wage earner. My clients don't have what's called priority. Unfortunately, if this bankruptcy is allowed to go through, they're not likely to get much money and they're not likely to get their jobs back," he said.
That is if the bankruptcy goes through. The lawsuit claims that shouldn't happen, because according to the lawsuit, the bankruptcy isn't even real.
"Blackjewel is part of Lexington Coal, who has substantial assets and basically the same people that run Blackjewel also control Lexington Coal, and we don't really think this is a legitimate bankruptcy. We think what's really going on here - this is just a scheme to beat the miners out of their pay - these wage earners," he said.
Harlan County has a deep history of miners striking for better working conditions and wages, as well as a history of the community showing support for the miners in these trying times. LEX 18 has received multiple photos of local businesses helping those protesting, as well as their families, by bringing food and supplies.
The miners did strike a deal with CSX Wednesday to allow their engine to be retrieved without the cars carrying the coal. A video shows that as the engine pulled away, the protesters chanted, "no pay, no coal."
LEX 18 reached out to Blackjewel and we have not heard back from them.