A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Pressure builds for Ky. Blackjewel miners to get back pay, but they pledge to hold out until others also paid

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Pressure is building for Blackjewel miners in eastern Kentucky to get their back wages.

But the laid-off miners blocking coal shipments there intend to hold out until former employees of the bankrupt company in several other states are paid as well.

Jeff Willig from Harlan County is one of the group that’s been dubbed the “Fab Five” – the first five miners to block the train carrying Blackjewel coal after the company bounced their paychecks last month.

A number of public officials have come out in support of the laid-off Blackjewel miners, who are blocking coal shipments over their bounced paychecks. (Photo from Facebook)

“We want our pay, but we want everyone – from West Virginia to Tennessee to Wyoming – to be paid,” he states. “All the Blackjewel miners to be paid what they deserve.”

In an open letter, former Blackjewel CEO Jeff Hoops has accepted responsibility for the situation. He promised the former employees would get proceeds from sale of the company.

Willig and other miners have said they’re not convinced Hoops will keep his word, saying they have been misled before.

Willig says miners in the South and many kinds of workers around the country have been mistreated, but he adds that the time has come for that to stop.

“Their voices weren’t heard,” he stresses. “They got walked over. Well, now the time stops. Don’t let corporate people take advantage of you. No matter what you do – teachers – need to stand, unite, remain strong, defend your rights.”

Willig says the bankruptcy judge has argued that he and the other Cloverlick Number 3 miners should be paid in full. He adds there is a good possibility that the firm’s buyer will want to hire many of the miners back.

But the bankruptcy and sale of the company is a large, complex legal and financial process with a large number of stakeholders.

According to lawyers watching the process, Kentucky law gives the former employees here a strong legal footing.

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