Blackjewel

Ned Pillersdorf

Environmental advocates worry a coal company liquidation plan will leave dozens of coal permits in eastern Kentucky unreclaimed, according to filings in the bankruptcy proceedings of Blackjewel L.L.C.

The bankruptcy case has dragged on since last July, when the once-mighty coal company’s Chapter 11 filing left hundreds of Appalachian coal miners suddenly without work, and without weeks of pay. Now the company has until the end of 2020 to exit bankruptcy, and to do that, it needs the court to approve the very liquidation plan that has environmentalists concerned.

Former Blackjewel Miners Could Get More Money From Proposed Settlement

Sep 2, 2020
Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

A proposed $17.3 million settlement of a class action lawsuit would provide additional payment for hundreds of Appalachian coal miners who were suddenly left jobless by the abrupt bankruptcy of the Blackjewel mining company. 

The settlement must be approved by the judge overseeing the complicated Blackjewel bankruptcy case. Although it is not yet final, attorneys for the miners call the agreement a “major victory” in bankruptcy court, a venue that is often not favorable to workers’ claims. 

The combination of protests, legal action, and intervention by the U.S. Department of Labor finally got most of the miners the pay they were owed. The proposed settlement filed Tuesday with the federal bankruptcy court would get each miner an additional payment — the equivalent of 44 days of pay — from the Blackjewel estate for penalties for violating a federal law known as the WARN Act.

Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

It’s a quiet, foggy morning on Highway 119 in Cumberland, Kentucky. A railroad track runs along the highway, and here, Sand Hill Bottom Road crosses the tracks and turns to the right, leaving a rough triangle of gravel spattered with trash. 

You can hear crickets chirping, birds twittering, cars passing on 119. A billboard advertises Portal 31, a coal town tourist attraction. 

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this was just a nondescript intersection in a nondescript bit of highway. But one year ago, this intersection played host to a two-month long protest of a kind that hadn’t been seen in coal country for decades.

 


Brittany Patterson

An attorney for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet told a federal judge Wednesday that the bankrupt coal company Blackjewel has accrued nearly 300 environmental violations since it entered bankruptcy in July.

“It’s essential that these violations are addressed, abated, and that they stop accruing,” Cabinet attorney Lena Seward told bankruptcy judge Frank Volk in the hearing. “There is potential for human and environmental harm.” 

 


Courtesy of protesters on site.

For the second time since summer, eastern Kentucky coal miners are blockading a railroad track to protest unpaid wages. The new blockade, which was started Monday afternoon by Quest Energy miners, echoes the months-long blockade by Blackjewel coal miners over the summer and speaks to a growing discontent in Appalachian coal country.

“It’s hard to go to work between two rocks and not get paid for it,” said a miner who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. “There’s men that’s getting their power bills cut off and men’s children starving.”

The two miners called on their workmates to join them. By 7 p.m. Monday evening, an additional six men had arrived. Residents living near the blockade site in Blackburn Bottom, Pike County, provided the protesters with blankets, firewood and cases of water.


The Kanawha Forest Coalition

Environmental groups sparred with coal company Blackjewel Tuesday over damage left behind in the coal company’s ongoing bankruptcy. The group is calling attention to numerous environmental violations by Blackjewel and its related companies and urging the federal bankruptcy judge to prioritize the environment as the bankruptcy continues.

The groups identified more than 400 instances when regulators found Blackjewel mines out of compliances in Kentucky alone, and more than 200 of the more serious violations in which the company was ordered to cease operations. The groups say some of those could pose serious risks to drinking water, tourism destinations and residential properties.


Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal miners who went without pay when mining company Blackjewel declared bankruptcy this June are one step closer to receiving lost wages. The checks come weeks after some of the miners ended a long-running protest, and months after the federal Department of Labor first intervened to allege the company violated labor laws in the month before it folded.

Rumors of a deal circulated early this month, and in consent orders filed in U.S. district courts in Kentucky and Virginia, Blackjewel committed to pay more than $5 million to miners.


Ned Pillersdorf

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.


Former Blackjewel Miners End Railroad Blockade In Kentucky

Sep 26, 2019
Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

The nearly two-month blockade of a Kentucky railroad track is coming to an end as unpaid coal miners end their protest in order to take new jobs, start classes, or move away from their coal-dependent communities. 

When coal company Blackjewel abruptly declared bankruptcy in July, it left some 1100 Appalachian coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia without pay. On July 29, five miners blockaded a train full of coal preparing to leave a Blackjewel facility in Harlan County, Kentucky. The miners’ rallying cry was “No Pay, No Coal.” 

But after 59 days on the tracks, the protest is coming to an end.


Curren Sheldon

West Virginia employees of coal operator Blackjewel LLC have received their final paychecks more than two months after the company declared bankruptcy on July 1.

In an agreement reached last week between the Department of Labor and the company, Blackjewel cut paper checks for all owed wages to a few dozen employees working at the company’s Pax Mine in Fayette County, West Virginia.


Sydney Boles

Kentucky’s labor secretary is defending his agency’s handling of the Blackjewel fallout.  The company abruptly declared bankruptcy in July, putting hundreds of coal miners out of work and paying them with cold checks. 

Attorney General Andy Beshear last week accused the Labor Cabinet of negligence for not enforcing a law that would have paid the miners.  Coal companies operating in Kentucky five years or less are supposed to pay a performance bond that equals four weeks of pay for its employees if the mine closes. 

Labor Secretary David Dickerson says that under existing law, the Labor Cabint can’t force a mining company to pay.  It can only issue fines, which some companies rather pay than comply with the order.  He refutes Beshear’s claims that the Labor Cabinet has been negligent in bringing other companies into compliance.


Brittany Patterson I Ohio Valley ReSource

Standing at an overlook on the top of Black Mountain — the tallest point in Kentucky —  the wooded Appalachian mountains stretch on like a sea of green for miles.

For many, this mountain is synonymous with the coal industry. It straddles the state line separating Harlan County, Kentucky and Wise County, Virginia, two communities that have long relied on mining the black gold contained in its depths.


Ryland Barton

Kentucky’s attorney general is accusing the state Labor Cabinet of negligence following the bankruptcy of Blackjewel Mining in Harlan County. 

After the mine closed July 1, miners’ paychecks bounced and they haven't been paid by the company since.  Andy Beshear says other miners face the same risk. 

Mining and construction companies doing business in Kentucky for less than five years are required to post performance bonds equal to one month’s payroll.  The attorney general says an investigation by his office has found that no mining companies have paid the bonds, putting around 1,000 miners in jeopardy.

Curren Sheldon

Curtis Cress sat in the gravel beside a railroad track in Harlan County, Kentucky. Tall and thin with a long, black beard, Cress is every bit a coal miner, or, he was until a month ago.

“It’s part of my heritage, you know? My dad and papaws had always done it,” he said. “And I’m proud of that heritage.”

Cress had been at these railroad tracks for days, with little sleep. Not far down the rails sat a row of hopper cars filled with coal from his former employer, Blackjewel Coal.


Protesting Blackjewel Miners Could Get Some Overdue Pay From Bankruptcy Sale

Aug 7, 2019
Curren Sheldon

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.


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