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Rural Blog: Eastern Kentucky miners block Quest Energy coal train near Kimper over back pay

Coal miners in far Eastern Kentucky are blocking a coal train from leaving a Quest Energy mine near Kimper; they say it’s because they haven’t been paid in weeks, and that they don’t plan to go back to work until they get their back pay.

“Miners said they worked from Dec. 16 until now without getting paid for that work. They came home last Thursday after a 17-hour shift, expecting to be paid Friday, but that check never came,” Buddy Forbes and Lynette Cooney reports for Hazard’s WYMT-TV. “They were told to wait until Monday and then the date was pushed back again. Now they just want to get what is owed to them.”

(Image from Wikipedia)

Within hours, people in the community brought the miners pizza, water and firewood. The situation is similar to a recent protest in southeastern Kentucky, where miners for now-bankrupt Blackjewel LLC blocked a coal train for nearly two months because their paychecks had bounced. The last miner left the tracks in late September, but none of them got paid until a month later.

American Resource Corp., which owns Quest Energy, released a statement disputing that the company makes miners work for 17 hours, and said that, though some employees are due one to eight days back pay, miners have been paid since Dec. 16 and the company doesn’t “take this lightly.” The statement also hinted at financial distress: “Given challenging markets, we are focused on ensuring the longevity of the employment for all the men and women of our organization.”

Will Wright of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports, “Records obtained by the Herald-Leader show that neither ARC nor any of its subsidiary companies had posted a performance bond with the state to protect wages as of November, possibly in violation of state law. The performance bond issue made headlines last year when Blackjewel LLC failed to pay the bond and laid off hundreds of employees without paying them for weeks of work.”

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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