Out of work Harlan County miners block train tracks in protest

Posted at 10:56 AM, Jul 30, 2019

HARLAN COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Weeks after their final paychecks bounced, out of work miners in an eastern Kentucky town are trying a desperate move to get payment for their labor.

Blackjewel Mining filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the beginning of July and said they would need about $6 million to pay employees. Hundreds of people were affected and paychecks for the last pay period bounced. Miners and their families have been struggling to make ends meet despite many organizations working to help.

"We worked for it. We earned it. And we deserve it. That's why we're standing here today, and we're not going to go nowhere until we find out if we're gonna get it," said Chris Rowe, a miner with Blackjewel Mining.

Protesters, mainly miners and their families, have camped out on the train tracks near Cumberland to block coal trains from passing. The miners have organized in a Facebook group where they are posting videos of their camp out.

As they waited, the protesters have tried to pass the time. Families set up corn hole boards and tents as music played in the background.

"It takes your mind off of it. Kind of eases things. But you always keep in the back of your mind what you're here for, what the purpose it," said Rowe.

Fathers, like miner Shane Smith, danced with their young daughters on the tracks. Smith and his fiancee Jennifer just had a baby earlier this month and the loss of his job has been a nightmare.

"It’s a struggle. I’m on medical leave from my job and he’s going on six weeks with no income. It’s hard. No parent should ever be put in a situation to where they feel this way. Do you pay your car payment to keep it from being repossessed or pay the electric bill to keep your lights on? I pray for us & the other families dealing with the same struggles," Jennifer told LEX 18.

Even with donations that have been made, miners have been falling behind on their bills.

"About to lose our houses. Power's turned off. Many issues that shouldn't be here right now," said Gary Amburgey, a miner.

Kentucky State Police in Harlan said they have not been contacted by CSX railroad officials nor have they issued any citations or made any arrests.

A spokesperson from CSX released the following statement, "CSX is monitoring the situation in Harlan County, KY. We understand this is related to a dispute between the mining company and its workers. CSX has taken precautions to ensure the safety of our employees and hopes for a quick resolution."

LEX 18 contacted Robert Steurer, the communications director for Senator Mitch McConnell, and he said that McConnell is following the situation in Harlan County and believes strongly that the miners should be paid in full for the work they have done.