The Bulletin

AGs call on federal officials to secure wage payments for Blackjewel miners

By: - July 16, 2019 12:20 pm

A Blackjewel mine near Appalachia, Va. (Sarah Vogelsong/ Virginia Mercury)

The attorneys general of Virginia and Kentucky today appealed to the federal Office of the U.S. Trustee to force the payment of clawed-back wages owed to hundreds of miners employed by Blackjewel, LLC, which declared bankruptcy July 1.

The strongly worded July 16 letter from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear highlights the “real, concrete, and ongoing harm” suffered by about 480 Virginia and 600 Kentucky miners who have been deprived of weeks of wages but not formally laid off as Blackjewel struggles to find financing in order to reorganize.

“Our Virginia and Kentucky families are in desperate need of their earned income now,” Herring and Beshear wrote. “In fact … they desperately needed that income on the days when their paychecks ought to have been deposited.”

The Office of the U.S. Trustee sits within the U.S. Department of Justice and is responsible for monitoring parties involved in bankruptcies and ensuring their compliance with bankruptcy law “to promote the integrity and efficiency of the bankruptcy system for the benefit of all stakeholders – debtors, creditors, and the public.”

The last paychecks Virginia miners received were issued June 28 but were withdrawn from miners’ accounts after news of the West Virginia-based mining company’s bankruptcy filing broke.

While Blackjewel flew cashier’s checks out to its workers in its massive Wyoming mines, its Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia employees were told that they would not be paid until additional financing was secured.

Herring and Beshear sharply criticized Blackjewel’s conduct over the course of its bankruptcy, writing that “despite knowing for years of its precarious financial situation,” the company “did nothing to prepare itself or its workforce.”

They further condemned reports that Blackjewel has been “attempting to lure a subset of workers back to the company with the promise of making those workers whole on their back payments,” a move that the attorneys general called “untenable.”

“[Blackjewel] is not exercising valid business judgment by picking and choosing which stiffed miners it will deign to make whole at this time,” Herring and Beshear wrote. “All workers who have labored for the company and are owed back wages should be made whole. And they should be made whole immediately.”

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.