Protesting Harlan County miners say they ‘just want what they earned’


HARLAN, Ky. — Eastern Kentucky miners who say they haven’t been paid by bankrupt coal operator Blackjewel LLC for three weeks continued to protest Wednesday in hopes of raising awareness of their situation, which is growing more desperate.

And, hopefully, to get the paychecks they say they are owed.

“Every one of us has families and kids to take care of, everyone of us wants what we earned,” Chris Rowe, one of the original six protesters, said Wednesday. “if it wasn’t for our community there would be so many families right now with nothing .”

Miners are angry; want answers

The peaceful protest entered its third day on Wednesday along the CSX railroad tracks in the town of Cumberland in Harlan County, Kentucky. With community support behind them, the miners said they will block the tracks into a Blackjewel mine until they are paid.

It began with more than 20 miners and their families camped on tracks Monday night to block trains hauling coal from a mine in Cloverlick.

Several were still there Tuesday morning holding signs that say “no pay, we stay.” Miners did allow a train to pass Monday after police arrived, but have continued to protest and have again blocked the tracks.

Community members are bringing the miners food and water.

Becoming nearly impossible to support their families

“We can take a stand here, but we need the backup and support,” Rowe said. “I speak for myself, I’m not gonna leave until I have money. I don’t want no more or no less I just want what I earned and I’ll be happy and I’ll go home. ”

CSX railroad said it is monitoring the groups of miners along its tracks.

“We understand this is related to a dispute between the mining company and its workers,” CSX said in a statement. “CSX has taken precautions to ensure the safety of our employees and hopes for a quick resolution. Any questions on the coal distribution arrangements should be addressed to the mining company.”

Miners continue to block train hauling coal, Kentucky State Police are asking them to move. (Photo: Connor James/WYMT)

The protesters said they have no issues with the railroad, but rather with the employer who isn’t paying them, Blackjewel.

CSX has been working with the protesters to get its locomotives in and out of the mine in Cloverlick.

“Companies shouldn’t be allowed to do their employees the way they do,” he said. “I understand you run into hard times, market drops, you can’t have employees and just take their money like that.”

WATE 6 On Your Side has reached out to Blackjewel and its representatives for an update on Wednesday but hasn’t received a response.

Blackjewel coal mine property in Harlan County, Kentucky, on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, (WATE)

The protest grows bigger, attracting national attention

Cumberland Mayor Charles Raleigh said the protesters don’t seem worried about the potential to be arrested for trespassing and are spending their time playing cornhole.

“It’s devastating; it’s a domino effect. It impacts all these miners, of course, but it affects all these miners because they have bills to pay and they can’t pay them, which hurts business. Truly, tragic” Raleigh said.

Protesters in Harlan County, Ky., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Photo courtesy of WTVQ)

“Technically, they’re not laid-off and they haven’t quit … 401Ks locked up; they can’t get to that,” Raleigh said of the miners’ plight “It’s really sad to me that this coward chose this route.”

The miners say they haven’t been paid in three weeks. The mayor said a 60-day notice of the bankruptcy would have given them some time to make plans.

“We need help. These guys need help. They have bills to pay,” said Raliegh, who comes from a coal mining family.

White House needs to get involved

Raleigh suggests it’s time for the White House to get involved, saying it’s beyond the point of what a small-town mayor can solve

A federal judge approved a bidding process last week for Blackjewel mines. The fate of mines in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia that had employed about 1,100 miners depends on the outcome.

Raleigh said miners are upset because the bankruptcy court has approved nearly $8 million in loans for Blackjewel, but there’s no money to cover bounced paychecks.

Blackjewel said in a statement to employees on Tuesday that it is working toward a resolution.

Blackjewel working to bring miners back to work

“We know how eager you all are to understand what will happen to your mine and whether you will be able return to work,” the company said in its statement. “We share this desire and assure you that we are doing everything possible to bring as many employees as possible back to work as quickly as possible.”

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Kuhn, said the Republican governor “remains committed to using every tool available” to assist the miners. Bevin’s administration is investigating the miners’ lost wages and providing staff to help in processing their unemployment insurance applications, she said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Bevin posted a video on Facebook asking people to donate money to help the miners through a Facebook page called “With Love from Harlan” and a GoFundMe page from the Harlan County Community Action Agency.

“Let’s help families in need,” Bevin said. “We are Kentucky.”

The state’s attorney general, Andy Beshear, weighed in on Twitter with support for the miners and said he had directed his office to support their cause in any way it can. Beshear, a Democrat, is challenging Bevin in Kentucky’s gubernatorial election in November.

State Rep. Adam Bowling, R-Middlesboro, joined the miners Tuesday, saying he wants the miners to know state officials will advocate for their pay.

Jeffrey Willig, a father of six, said his bank account was overdrawn after his last paycheck from Blackjewel bounced. He says he and others plan to block the tracks “as long as it takes.”

“We’re not expecting our jobs back, we just want our money,” Willig said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cumberland, Kentucky. (PHoto via Google Maps)

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Weather Drawing Submission