Photo By: 
Connor James-WYMT

Kentucky Coal Miners Block Mine & Demand Back Pay

The miners are refusing to allow the coal to leave until they are paid thousands in back wages

Brian Young's picture
Jul 30, 2019

For the past 24 hours, angry coal miners in Harlan County Kentucky have been blocking a railroad track leading out from the Cloverlick #3 Mine. Their demands are simple. They want to be paid the money that the mine owners owe them.

While the solution may seem simple, what got everyone here is much more complicated. On July 1 the owner of the mine, Blackjewel, declared bankruptcy. They also closed all of their mines leaving hundreds of workers laid off going into a holiday weekend. Many were not only left without a way to provide for their families but they were also owed thousands in back pay as were local businesses who Blackjewel allegedly stiffed for thousands of dollars to. This was a tough pill to swallow for a small community that relies on the mine, but everything is supposed to be worked out in bankruptcy court.

However, on the afternoon of July 29th, local miners began to hear a weird noise in the community. A train, packed with coal was leaving the mine. A mine that was supposed to be closed. Furious workers rushed to the mine to see if they could get some answers. This was the coal that they had mined for free over the past weeks while the company withheld their pay and the miners wanted to make sure that they got what was owed to them. To do this, dozens of miners set up camp on the tracks, refusing to allow the train to move forward until they got some answers from Blackjewel. Holding homemade signs saying “No Pay, We Stay,” the miners have held their protest throughout the night. By the side of the tracks, nearly one hundred people have set up bonfires and games of cornhole as the protest continues.

As they continued their protest into Tuesday, miners vowed to prevent any trains from leaving or entering the mine. Apparently, there is still some coal in the mine that can be removed and sold, but the workers want to make sure that they are the first to get paid and that executives don’t run away with the fruits of their labor.

"We get our money, this load of coal that's on this train can go by. But until then, they'll be no trains coming in, they'll be no trains going out," said Shane Smith, one of the miners affected by the Blackjewel bankruptcy. He told local news station WYMT that he was willing to go to jail before he would allow the train to pass. This was a common sentiment among many of the other miners as well.

The protestors are committing to stay for at least the next 48 hours and have begun working in shifts to make sure the tracks and the mine are blocked off.

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