Northam announces assistance for locked-out Blackjewel miners

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

Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced several relief efforts to assist hundreds of Virginia miners affected by the July 1 bankruptcy of major U.S. coal producer Blackjewel, LLC, which operates 10 mines in the southwestern portion of the state.

Describing himself as “deeply concerned by the sudden closure of Blackjewel LLC and the significant impact it will have on over 450 hardworking Virginians and their families,” Northam said that his administration will continue to “closely monitor the situation.”

The governor authorized Blackjewel employees to file for unemployment benefits and directed the Virginia Employment Commission to waive its standard week-long waiting period for those benefits. He also authorized overtime pay for Virginia Career Works representatives to help workers access job training programs and other employment opportunities.

Additional programs and informational sessions are expected to be announced over the next few days by the Virginia Employment Commission. On Tuesday, VEC Rapid Response State Coordinator Brett Tavel said that the commission was still “trying to figure out a plan of action” to address the “very sudden situation.”

Blackjewel’s July 1 filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and inability to keep operating after a bankruptcy court judge denied its petition to enter into a $20 million financing agreement threw the company, the nation’s sixth-largest coal producer, into disarray. When it could not meet payroll, Blackjewel closed all of its mines and sent its workers home but did not lay them off. In the bankruptcy’s aftermath, the company clawed back its workers’ last checks, leaving many in Virginia with no funds, significant overdraft charges and unable to file for unemployment.

UPDATE: 

In a statement to the Mercury, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring encouraged “any miners who have had problems involving Blackjewel—either with the company, or with the consequences of the withheld pay” to contact his office at [email protected] or 1-800-552-9963.

“It is outrageous that Blackjewel has yanked back so many paychecks and left so many of its employees in limbo,” Herring said. “These miners deserve the wages they earned and the company should also take care of any negative consequences like overdrafts or late fees. I will use any tool or legal resource at my disposal to make sure these folks get paid.”