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. This financial crisis can lead to them declaring bankruptcy too, either by having to file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Milwaukee, for example, or by going to their bank and setting up a payment plan for their outstanding finances. There are many knock-on effects from this.

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 workers 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
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter who covered everything from Lula & the Brazilian labor movement to major league baseball. He spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian and was labeled by the New York Times as an "abrasive gadfly" for exposing within the labor movement. Raised in a UE union family in Pittsburgh, Elk was illegally for union organizing at Politico in 2015 and used his NLRB settlement to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and is fluent in both Pittsburghese and Portuguese, which he learned when attending journalism school at PUC-Rio de Janerio. Email: [email protected]

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