April 2, 2023

IIn July 2019, about 1,700 coal miners working for an affiliate of Blackjewel, one of the largest U.S. coal mine operators, found their salaries had rebounded. Many people have negative bank accounts while bills and late fees pile up.

Blackjewel then filed for bankruptcy and abruptly closed its Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Wyoming mines, laying off miners without notice and leaving them unpaid for work done in the past two weeks .

That prompted several miners to protest in Harlan County, Kentucky, preventing a train laden with coal from leaving a mine in Blackjewel until the miners were owed money.

In 2019, unemployed Blackjewel coal miners blocked a rail line to an old mine in Cumberland, Kentucky.
In 2019, unemployed Blackjewel coal miners blocked a rail line to an old mine in Cumberland, Kentucky. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Now, more than three years later, hundreds of miners and their families are still waiting for their arrears. And, while the wounds left by their treatments are fresh over time – like the economic hardships they endure in parts of the country, working in mines is often one of the few high-paying jobs around .

At the time of bankruptcy, Lynn Huskinson worked as a coal miner at a coal mine in Gillette, Wyoming.

“There are people and suppliers who have not been reimbursed for work or products delivered from 2019,” Huskinson said. “We were told one thing in the morning and fired in the afternoon.”

She described issues such as late fees and safety concerns while working at the mine. Relying on her job loss and waiting for an answer from her employer, she eventually decided to retire rather than return to work after the same mine was sold to a different owner.

“I remember the day they fired us. They called the sheriff to protect the mine so the miners wouldn’t shoot at a manager or steal their own tools before leaving,” she added.

A photo from September 2019 shows a poster urging locals in Gillette, Wyoming, to stay strong.  The closure of Blackjewel LLC's Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in Wyoming has added more uncertainty to the Powder River Basin's struggling coal economy.
A photo from September 2019 shows a poster urging locals in Gillette, Wyoming, to stay strong. Photo: Mead Grover/Associated Press

After weeks in federal court, Blackjewel agree $5.1 million settlement paid to cover wages owed to miners, but coal miners sue class action Claiming wages and benefits owed to them under federal law because workers were not given 60 days’ notice of layoffs under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice (Warning) Act.

February 2021, a settlement The case has reached $17.3 million, but although many mines have been sold and reopened under new owners, workers have yet to receive any of those funds.Other mines abandoned due to bankruptcy remain face Recycling and cleanup costs borne by local or state agencies.

Blackjewel investors also submitted their own applications litigation Oppose former president and CEO Jeffery Hoops, accusing him of depriving the company of assets before filing for bankruptcy to keep money away from creditors.

Hoops has been building a luxury resort in Milton, West Virginia, received Millions in tax deductions.golf course has a soft open Construction on the remainder of the resort experienced significant delays in August 2022.

An investor lawsuit against Hoops was dismissed, and the terms of the dismissal remain confidential. A court ruling on a lawsuit against United Bank for withholding debt loans to keep Blackjewel going through its bankruptcy filing is expected sometime in the coming months, a lawyer representing Blackjewel investors said. They declined to comment on the records.

Union Bank did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“It’s really a joke,” said Jimmy Justus, who worked as a miner in Blackjewel, Virginia, before the sudden layoffs caused his bank to close his account. “If I did what Hoops did, I’d go to jail, but he’s still living his best life.”

Leanna Parsons’ husband works at Blackjewel in Lee County, Virginia. After learning that he suddenly no longer had a job, he was overdrawn by $2,700 in his bank account. Parsons then found out she was pregnant, and after being unable to find work in the area, they picked up and moved to Alabama for a new coal job.

“[A lot of other] People just can’t move, and many have developed the early stages of black lung. “

She said many workers in the region are still insisting on the compensation they deserve, some of whom are relying on unemployment. Many are too old to move elsewhere to find another coal job.

“We wanted a straightforward answer. Is there any money? Even a dollar, and that dollar means a lot to everyone who goes through it,” Parsons added. “What about the money? His resort is almost over. I just don’t get it. Why didn’t they freeze Jeff Hoops’ account? Why is he still getting so much money?”

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