ABINGDON, Va. (AP) — Coal miners who blocked train tracks in Kentucky demanding to get paid for the coal they mined will benefit from a federal deal with the bankrupt company.
Agreements filed in U.S. District Court this week will pay out nearly $5.5 million in back pay to miners from Blackjewel LLC's eastern mines. The checks from over the summer bounced when workers tried to cash them, prompting several miners in Kentucky to protest by blocking coal shipments in Harlan County.
The agreement involves a separate entity, Blackjewel Marketing and Sales Holdings, paying the bankrupt company $5.47 million to issue paychecks to employees, the Bristol Herald Courier reported. Blackjewel owned mines in Kentucky, West Virginia, Wyoming and Virginia.
"I feel relieved to finally be getting the pay that I worked for, which is what all of us miners wanted," former Blackjewel miner Collin Cornette said in a text message to the Associated Press. "The protest made people realize that working Americans — when united — can be a powerful force."
Cornette, 41, joined the protest on the railroad tracks in Kentucky that lasted about two months. It drew national media attention by evoking memories of long-ago coal miner union battles with mining companies. They held signs that said "No Pay, No Coal" and received donations from around the country.
Cornette, who worked at the D-29 Darby Fork mine in Harlan County, said he is leaving the mining industry and is attending classes to become a machinist.
"I told my wife for years I wanted to be out by the time I was 40," Cornette said.
Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 1. It agreed to pay its workers following the sale of two mines in Wyoming last week.
"Payroll checks are expected to be issued this week," Blackjewel attorney Stephen Lerner wrote in a Wednesday email to the Bristol Herald Courier. They will cover unpaid wages earned between June 10 and July 1, according to court documents.
The U.S. Department of Labor had taken steps to prevent Blackjewel from moving thousands of tons of coal. The department alleged the coal violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits the transportation of goods if the workers who produced them had not been paid.
Ned Pillersdorf, a Kentucky attorney representing some of the miners, said the federal government played a big role in securing the lost pay.
"When wage earners are trespassing and blocking tracks, the government usually comes in against them," Pillersdorf said. "And here the government came in with guns blazing in favor of my clients, and it took a while but I'm really appreciative of all they did to help my guys."
Eagle Specialty Materials LLC purchased the two mines in Wyoming. The company has assumed the obligations of paying employees at Blackjewel's western mines.
Information from: Bristol Herald Courier, http://www.bristolnews.com