HARLAN, Ky. (WJHL) – Hundreds of coal miners are scrambling after their employer filed for bankruptcy protection and ceased operations without warning last week.
And to make matters worse, many of the miners’ paychecks have bounced.
West Virginia-based Blackjewel LLC and its affiliate Revelation Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last Monday. Court records show Blackjewel has about 1,700 employees in Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, the company had around 480 workers in Virginia in 2018.
Many of those employees were in for a surprise last week.
“We worked that shift and then when we got outside we were informed of the bankruptcy,” said Quincy Adams, who works at Blackjewel’s Lone Mountain Processing facility in St. Charles, Virginia. Employees were told to go home as the company suspended operations Monday afternoon.
On top of that, many employees say they also discovered their bank accounts were overdrawn after their paychecks bounced or were “clawed back.”
Clarence Reed was on vacation when he found out.
“We actually had to cut our vacation short because I was informed that they were taking people’s money from the bank,” Reed said. “Went to the bank and found out they had withdrew their money back, and having two kids it is kind of hard. It put me almost $2000 in the negative at the bank.”
According to a letter posted on the company’s bankruptcy web page, paychecks for West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia miners were going to be funded by a loan that “unexpectedly could not be obtained.” The letter says those checks may not get paid until the company resumes normal operations. In the meantime, a limited number of employees are being allowed to return in order to “protect and preserve” operations and prepare for a return to full production.
In the letter, Blackjewel says the employees who are returning to work will have their paychecks paid. The others will have to wait for now.
Hundreds of Blackjewel employees gathered Monday at the courthouse in Harlan, Kentucky at the invitation of the county’s judge-executive, Dan Mosley. Mosley told affected employees how they can get government assistance, like unemployment and food stamps. He also distributed letters to workers to give to their creditors, explaining the situation.
“This is a terrible situation you all have been put in. A very, very, very bad situation,” Mosley told the crowd.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin announced Monday that the state’s Labor Cabinet is opening an investigation into Blackjewel and Revelation Energy over reports of unpaid wages.
“We will use every available tool within Kentucky’s statutory authority to help our hardworking miners and their families receive financial restitution,” Gov. Bevin said in a news release. “While this will not likely yield an overnight fix, I am confident that the Labor Cabinet will undertake a thorough investigation and determine the appropriate best path forward.”
Bevin encouraged workers who believe they have not received full compensation to immediately contact the Labor Cabinet’s Division of Wages and Hours at 502-564-3534.
For affected employees in Virginia, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) says if the layoffs become permanent, those affected will be able to receive resource packets from his office in Abingdon.
For now, many questions remain unanswered.
“I’d just like to know are we going to get our money back,” Reed said. “Is there going to be help out there? You know, what can we do?”