coal miners

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.

Joe Manchin Youtube

Retired coal miners joined lawmakers from the Ohio Valley on Capitol Hill Wednesday for another attempt to protect miners’ pensions. Pensions are at risk because of a downturn in the coal market, the lingering effects of the 2008 recession, and coal company bankruptcies which have all reduced the amounts companies paid into a shared, or multiemployer, pension plan. The United Mine Workers of America is pushing Congress for legislation to shore up those retirement benefits.


Jessica Lilly, WVPB

Robert Bailey started mining coal in southern West Virginia’s McDowell County in the 1970s. By the time he retired from the Patriot Coal Company 36 years later he was already having trouble breathing. By the time I first interviewed Bailey in 2014, his black lung disease had become severe.

“I’m in the process of a lung transplant,” he explained. But an insurance company was protesting further treatment. “It’s a struggle just to receive the help that you still need,” he said between puffs of air from an oxygen tank.


CVI

A congressional subcommittee will hear testimony Thursday in support of a bill that would help clean up and redevelop surface mine land. The bill enjoys bipartisan support, but still faces hurdles.

A 2015 report found that as many as 6.2 million acres of land and water were harmed by mining operations that ended prior to 1977, when significant standards were put in place to protect communities and environments near mine sites.


Becca Schimmel

One of the Kentucky mine workers charged in a coal dust fraud case last year wants to change his “not guilty” plea to “guilty,” a possible indication that the defendant will cooperate with prosecutors in the case.

Court documents show defendant Ron Ivy, a former employee of Armstrong Coal, is scheduled to change his plea on April 1. Ivy pleaded guilty last year along with eight others charged in an indictment. 

Western Kentucky District U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman says the case remains open and active.

Becca Schimmel

A federal prosecutor announced new charges against a senior coal company official for conspiring to falsify the required monitoring of coal dust. The case comes amid a surge in cases of black lung disease and widespread allegations from miners that cheating on dust monitors is common in the mining industry.

Western Kentucky District U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman unsealed a new indictment Wednesday against the former manager of all of the western Kentucky mines belonging to the now-bankrupt Armstrong Energy coal company. Glendal “Buddy” Hardison is charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency in charge of enforcing dust controls in coal mines.


Becca Schimmel

Following a failed attempt to address a looming crisis in many multi-employer pension programs, two Ohio Valley lawmakers have introduced a bill in Congress to shore up the shaky pension plan for coal miners. The bill also aims to protect health benefits and restore funding for the federal trust fund providing benefits for thousands of miners sickened by black lung disease.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is one of six Democrats sponsoring the American Miners Act of 2019, which seeks to fund the pension plan for coal miners guaranteeing retirement and health benefits from cradle to grave. Brown says the fund is at risk of insolvency due to a downturn in the coal market, the 2008 recession, and coal company bankruptcies.


MSHA records

Just a few months ago, the U.S. coal mining industry was on track for its safest year in history. But in an eleven-day span in late December, three miners died after separate incidents, bringing the total number of fatalities in 2018 to 12, even as coal mining employment continued its decline.

“It is a reminder to enforcement agencies and companies who are responsible for miner safety that you always have to be vigilant, you can never let up your guard,” Kentucky lawyer and mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard said.


Sydney Boles

With just days left before a Congressional deadline, advocates for black lung treatment are still pushing Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell to secure funding for miners’ benefits.

About two dozen people demonstrated Wednesday near McConnell’s regional office in London, Kentucky, carrying placards reading “Black Lung Kills” and singing along with a banjo tune modified for the occasion.

“Oh, Mitch McConnell, when will you answer? Somebody’s knocking at your door.” 

Marcy Tate

Marcy Tate grew up in southwest Virginia in a coal mining family.

“My father-in-law was a coal miner, my father was a coal miner, my grandfather was a coal miner, my great-grandfather was a coal miner,” she said. Tate knew what black lung disease looked like.

In 2003, her father-in-law passed away from what Tate believed to be black lung disease, though he wasn’t diagnosed. Around the same time, her father started showing the same familiar symptoms of shortness of breath, mucus, and wheezing.


NPR

NPR is reporting that more than two thousand coal miners are now suffering from the most severe form of black lung disease, Progressive Massive Fibrosis, or PMF. And despite clear warnings, investigative reporter Howard Berkes shows, the mining industry and government regulators did little to stop it.

Data loom large in this story: Berkes took a deep dive into 30 years of dust monitoring data from coal mines. That analysis revealed that miners were frequently exposed to toxic levels of silica dust. And a review of federal records showed that industry and regulators knew the deadly consequences long ago.


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