coal miners

Senator Joe Manchin YouTube screenshot

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin pledged Wednesday to block all legislation until pensions and health benefits are secured for coal miners. 

Manchin said no legislation will pass the Senate until he is assured that coal miners’ benefits will be in the spending bill used to fund the federal government.

The Bipartisan American Miners Act would permanently secure pensions for about 82,000 coal miners who could lose their retirement benefits by sometime next year without congressional action.


Adelina Lancianese

A new report from the nonpartisan budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense says that an expired coal tax is effectively a taxpayer subsidy for the coal industry. The analysis reflects a growing concern about the fiscal health of a federal fund that supports tens of thousands of disabled coal miners.

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund was established in 1969 to pay health care expenses for certain disabled coal miners and their dependents. It is supported by coal companies, which pay a limited tax on each ton of coal they remove from the ground. Early this year, Congress allowed the tax to decrease by more than 50 percent. The Government Accountability Office found the move would leave the fund $15 billion in debt by 2050, and would likely require a bailout by taxpayers.


Vivian Stockman and Southwings

Appalachian surface coal miners are consistently overexposed to toxic silica dust, according to new research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and surface mine dust contains more silica than does dust in underground coal mines. 

The research released Tuesday is the first to specifically analyze long-term data on exposure to toxic silica dust for workers at surface mines. The work reveals that while attention has been trained on a surge in disease among underground coal miners, surface miners are similarly at risk of contracting coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease. 

 


Adelina Lancianese

The comment period has closed for the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s proposed rule on respirable silica, a major contributor to skyrocketing rates of lung disease among coal miners. The 49 relevant comments included a striking testimony from an anonymous coal miner sharing details of the ways in which current mine operators cheat on dust monitoring protocols.

MSHA issued the request for comment following an NPR/PBS Frontline investigation that found the agency had failed to adequately protect miners despite knowing that silica dust was contributing to an epidemic of black lung disease. Silica is a component of coal mine dust, and is released when miners cut into rock layers surrounding seams of coal. Particulates lodge in miners’ lungs for the rest of their lives, hardening lung tissue and preventing them from getting enough oxygen.


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.


screenshot from Amy McGrath for Senate YouTube

Two retired coal miners have sent a cease and desist letter to the U.S. Senate campaign of Amy McGrath. The retirees were shown in a campaign ad for the candidate.

Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall say they didn’t know a video of them would be used for a political attack advertisement until after it was already being broadcast.

The ad featured a reenactment of a 10-hour bus ride to Washington D.C. by coal miners advocating for black lung benefits.


On Labor Day, Miners Mark Historic Union March

Sep 3, 2019
Emily Allen

Ninety-eight years ago, thousands of pro-union miners marched toward West Virginia’s Logan County, to protest abuses by coal operators in what was then a largely anti-union territory.

The marchers were met at Blair Mountain in Logan County by an army of men, fighting on behalf of anti-union mine guards and local law enforcement. The battle was so heated that then-president Warren Harding called in Army troops to restore order.


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.


Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet

Search and recovery efforts have been suspended for a worker involved in an explosion at a Muhlenberg County mine. 

Richard Knapp is presumed dead following the blast last week at the Paradise Mine in Bremen.  He was a 62-year-old welder and iron worker from West Frankfort, Illinois. 

John Mura, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, told WKU Public Radio that crews worked for two days to lower the methane levels so a camera could be dropped into the mine.

Curren Sheldon

Unpaid miners spent a fourth day Thursday on a Kentucky railroad protesting Blackjewel Mining, as a bankruptcy court prepared to sell off the company’s assets.

Blackjewel Miners Block Railroad To Demand Pay From Bankrupt Coal Company

Jul 30, 2019
Sydney Boles

Some coal miners left without pay by the bankruptcy of coal company Blackjewel LLC are protesting by blocking a coal train in eastern Kentucky.

The stand-off began early Monday when five miners blocked the train from leaving the Cumberland, Kentucky, plant. Despite police asking them to leave, miners spent the night blocking the railroad to protest Blackjewel moving coal while miners have yet to be paid.


Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee

United Mine Workers and supporters were on Capitol Hill Wednesday in an effort to shore up their pension and health benefits. More than 43,000 coal miners in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are growing anxious about losing their retirement benefits.

The coal miner’s union says its pension fund will be insolvent in three years if Congress doesn’t take action. If the pension plan defaults, coal miner’s retirement plans will fall to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which will reduce their benefits. It would also put the PBGC at risk of insolvency.  


Sydney Boles

Dozens of Appalachian coal miners plan to visit Capitol Hill Tuesday to ask lawmakers to bolster funding for the black lung disability trust fund, which miners depend upon when no responsible company can be identified to pay for needed health care.

The fund is already billions of dollars in debt, and that will likely grow as more miners develop the disease and coal companies pay less into the fund. Coal companies pay a tax to support the trust fund, which pays monthly income and health benefits for miners who were disabled by the preventable and deadly occupational disease.


Jeff Young

Kentucky’s Attorney General said on Friday he is investigating complaints from miners who say they are not receiving pay following the fast-moving bankruptcy negotiations for Blackjewel mining, which employs some 1100 people in Central Appalachia.

Attorney General Andy Beshear said in a statement he has received “numerous troubling complaints” related to the company, “ranging from clawed back paychecks to child support issues.

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