Harlan County Miners Win Partial Backpay After Week of Blockading Train

Coal miners block a coal train in Harlan County as they demand backpay that they are owed (Louisville Courier-Journal)

For the last week, a group of non-union coal miners has been blockading a train full of over $1 million worth of coal from leaving Blackjewel’s Cloverlick mine in Harlan County, Kentucky.

The workers were blockading the train because after Blackjewel declared bankruptcy in early July, the workers weren’t paid. Indeed, many paychecks given to miners prior to the bankruptcy bounced; throwing many miners into financial crisis.

Last week, miners decided to block a train from Blackjewel’s Cloverlick mine in order to demand that they receive back pay for the work that they already performed.

On Monday, workers won a partial victory when a bankruptcy judge ruled that as part of a plan for Kopper Glo to purchase the mines from Blackjewel that Kopper Glo must pay a portion of their back wages.

Laid-off Blackjewel orkers are owed $2.5 million in back wages. However, as part of its $6 million purchase of Blackjewel’s properties in Harlan County, Kopper Glo has only committed to paying $450,000 immediately towards what workers are owed and another $550,000 in additional money once the mine is reopened.

In total, the new buyer of the mine will only have to pay for $1 million out of the $2.5 million that workers are owed. Miners will be forced to pursue additional legal action to get Blackjewel to pay them the other $1.5 million owed in back wages.

Additionally, the new owner, Kopper Glo signaled that they intend to hire back some of the miners to work in the mine once it reopens. However, without a union contract, there are no guarantees that any of the miners will get their job back once the mine reopens.

It’s unclear if the partial back payment will be enough for workers in Harlan County to stop their blockade. Workers plan to meet on Wednesday to vote on whether or not to continue the blockade.

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About the Author

Mike Elk
A Sidney-award winning labor reporter, Mike Elk is the founder of Payday Report and also covers labor and immigration for The Guardian. In 2015, he was illegally fired for union organizing as Politico’s senior labor reporter and used his $70,000 NLRB settlement to start Payday. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh He can be reached at Melk@PaydayReport.com

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