In July 2019, about 1,700 coalminers working for an affiliate of one of many largest coalmine operators within the US, Blackjewel, discovered their paychecks had bounced. Many had been left with financial institution accounts within the damaging whereas payments and late charges piled up.
Blackjewel then filed for chapter and abruptly shut down its mines in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Wyoming, shedding miners with out discover and leaving them with out pay for the work they’d accomplished the previous two weeks.
This prompted a number of miners to start out a protest in Harlan county, Kentucky, blocking a practice stuffed with coal from one in every of Blackjewel’s mines from leaving till miners had been paid what they had been owed.
Now, greater than three years later, a whole bunch of miners and their households are nonetheless ready for what they’re owed. And, regardless of the passage of time, the injuries left by their remedy are recent – as are the financial hardships they endure in elements of the nation the place working on the mine was typically one of many few well-paid jobs round.
Lynne Huskinson labored as a coalminer in Gillette, Wyoming, at one in every of Blackjewel’s mines when the chapter occurred.
“There are folks and distributors who haven’t been reimbursed for the work or product they delivered again from 2019,” mentioned Huskinson. “We had been informed one factor within the morning and laid off within the afternoon.”
She described issues reminiscent of late pay and questions of safety whereas working on the mine.She relied on unemployment whereas ready for solutions from her employer, in the end deciding to retire relatively than return to work on the identical mines as soon as they had been bought to completely different homeowners.
“I bear in mind the day they laid us off. They known as the sheriff to guard the mine so miners wouldn’t go off on some supervisor or steal their very own instruments earlier than they left,” she added.
After weeks in federal court docket, Blackjewel agreed to a $5.1m settlement to cowl the again wages miners had been owed, however coalminers filed a class action lawsuit to demand the wages and advantages owed to them beneath federal legislation, as employees weren’t supplied with 60 days’ discover of their layoffs beneath the Employee Adjustment and Retraining Notification (Warn) Act.
In February 2021, a settlement of $17.3m was reached within the case, however employees have but to obtain any of these funds regardless of most of the mines having been bought off and reopened beneath new homeowners. Different mine websites deserted because of the chapter are nonetheless facing reclamation and cleanup prices that fall to native or state companies.
Blackjewel buyers have additionally filed their very own lawsuit in opposition to the previous president and CEO Jeffery Hoops, accusing him of stripping the corporate of belongings earlier than the chapter submitting to maintain funds away from collectors.
Hoops has been constructing a luxurious resort in Milton, West Virginia, that received tens of millions in tax breaks. The golf course had a soft opening in August 2022, whereas building of the remainder of the resort has undergone vital delays.
Lawsuits filed in opposition to Hoops by buyers had been dismissed, with phrases of the dismissals remaining confidential. A court docket ruling on the lawsuit in opposition to United Financial institution for withholding debt loans to maintain Blackjewel working via its chapter submitting is predicted to be launched someday within the subsequent few months, based on an lawyer representing Blackjewel buyers. They declined to touch upon the file.
United Financial institution didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark.
“It’s a joke actually,” mentioned Jimmy Justus who labored as a miner for Blackjewel in Virginia earlier than the abrupt layoff that brought on his financial institution to close down his account. “If it was me doing what Hoops has achieved I’d be in jail however he’s nonetheless residing his finest life.”
Leanna Parsons’ husband labored at Blackjewel in Lee county, Virginia. He was left with a $2,700 overdraft in his checking account for weeks after being knowledgeable that he instantly now not had a job. Parsons then discovered she was pregnant, and after being unable to seek out work within the space, they picked up and moved to Alabama for a brand new coal job.
“[A lot of other] folks simply don’t have the means to maneuver and lots of them have already developed the start phases of black lung.”
She mentioned many employees within the space had been nonetheless holding out for compensation they’re owed, with some counting on unemployment. Many are too outdated to maneuver some place else to seek out one other coal job.
“We wish a straight reply. Is there any cash or not? Even when it was a greenback, that greenback means one thing to all people who went via that,” added Parsons. “The place’s the cash? His resort’s nearly achieved. I simply don’t get it. Why haven’t they frozen Jeff Hoops’ accounts? Why does he nonetheless have entry to all this cash?”