West Virginia employees of coal operator Blackjewel LLC have received their final paychecks more tha

Sep 19, 2019

  The Burgess family received Greg’s owed wages late last week, but is still waiting for the check to clear a bank hold. Blackjewel’s bad check created a series of challenges. The first few unemployment checks the family received went straight to the bank to get the account out of the red. In total, Christina said Blackjewel’s bankruptcy has cost her family about $3,000 in penalties and fees. Greg quickly found new work after the Pax Mine closed and the family had some money saved in preparation for a downturn in the local industry. Christina said she empathizes with younger miners who were hit hard by Blackjewel’s sudden bankruptcy. As one of the administrators for the Blackjewel Employees Stand Together Facebook group, she has heard many stories of families unable to pay their bills as a result of not being paid by Blackjewel. She expects the fallout from Blackjewel’s bad checks to have long-term consequences as well.   “They could have at least came in and said, you know, ‘don’t send turn off notices for the power bills, give them a little leeway,’” she said. “Nothing. We didn’t receive anything.”  The Pax mine is now owned by Tennessee-based Contura Energy. About 1,000 Blackjewel employees in Virginia and Kentucky are still awaiting millions of dollars in owed wages. A protest on the railroad tracks in Harlan County is in its eighth week. Millions of dollars worth of coal mined by former Blackjewel employees is sitting in railcars. The Department of Labor says the coal is “hot goods” and can’t be moved or sold until the workers who mined it are paid for their work. Last week, the bankruptcy court in West Virginia overseeing the case gave the Labor Department, Blackjewel, and Blackjewel Marketing and Sales (BJMS) — buyer of the disputed coal — until Sept. 23 to submit a series of briefs to the court. A final set of briefs is due Oct. 1. The judge said he expects to review the documents “swiftly” and rule soon after whether the coal should remain sitting until the Blackjewel workers who mined it are fully paid, or if it can be  sold. 

BJMS has proposed paying $1.4 million for the coal. The Labor Department says back wages owed to workers directly involved in producing the “hot goods” coal in Kentucky and Virginia totals more than $3 million.