Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring fights to get Blackjewel miners paid

By Davis Burroughs

July 17, 2019

Virginia and Kentucky’s top legal advisers are working to get over 1,000 workers paid after a coal operator with mines in both states unexpectedly slammed its doors.

Approximately 480 Virginia miners and 600 Kentucky miners missed their last paychecks after Blackjewel LLC filed for bankruptcy on July 1.

In a joint letter sent yesterday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear asked the Office of the United States Trustee to ensure the “immediate repayment” of paychecks owed to workers.

“All workers who have labored for the company and are owed back wages should be made whole. And they should be made whole immediately,” the attorneys general wrote.

Herring and Beshear said Blackjewel’s poor financial planning led to its “haphazard” bankruptcy wherein it issued paychecks backed by insufficient funds. In some cases, workers’ banks refused to accept the checks; in others, the funds were “clawed back” after being deposited.

“Despite knowing for years of its precarious financial situation, the Debtor did nothing to prepare itself or its workforce for this month’s bankruptcy,” the letter said.

It is “absolutely outrageous” that hundreds of Virginia miners have had to overdraft their bank accounts and “scramble to make ends meet because Blackjewel couldn’t get its act together,” Herring said in a statement.

Over the past two weeks, several local news outlets reported stories of miners in Virginia who have suffered as a result of the bankruptcy.

In Pennington Gap, a 44-year old miner had his account balance drawn down to $30 after the bank took back his $2,200 paycheck, The Bristol Herald Courier reported. And a 33-year-old with four children who worked at the mine in Jewell Ridge told The Virginia Mercury that his bank is requiring him to cough up $2,100.00 to cover a bounced paycheck.

Blackjewel has not officially laid off its workers even though its mines are closed, meaning miners can’t file for unemployment benefits. The company could still bring some workers back.

To that end, Herring and Beshear also asked the Office of the United States Trustee to ensure all workers receive the money they are owed, not just those who might get called back to the mines as part of a smaller workforce.

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