Pre-filed bill would make sure coal companies are bonded

Coal Money graphic

HARLAN, Ky. (WTVQ) – Two state lawmakers who represent voters in eastern Kentucky are pre-filing a bill to close a loophole in an existing state law that requires coal companies in business less than five consecutive years, to put up a performance bond to cover four weeks of payroll.

A shortcoming in the law does not provide a way for the Labor Cabinet to know which new companies are supposed to post bond.

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Senator Johnny Ray Turner and Representative Angie Hatton’s bill would suspend or revoke new coal companies’ mining permits until the required performance bonds are posted.

The legislation would also require miners’ lawyer fees to be recouped if they have to sue in order to receive their paychecks.

The bill is scheduled to be introduced in the 2020 General Assembly in January.

The legislation is the result of this summer’s Blackjewel bankruptcy.  The coal company filed for protection on July 1, 2019.  Its coal miners were not paid for the work they had performed for the company.

Immediately following the bankruptcy filing, Blackjewel’s miners found themselves out of work, without health insurance and owed money.  They sued to get paid what they are owed.

Blackjewel incorporated in 2017, so the company should have posted a bond that would have taken care of the miners’ wages despite the bankruptcy filing, according to the Labor Cabinet.

State records show Blackjewel didn’t post a bond prior to filing for bankruptcy, causing its miners’ paychecks to be clawed back.

The cabinet has issued Blackjewel a citation, including a $366,500 fine for violating the state law.

Blackjewel says it will reimburse employees by collecting a per-ton fee expected to accumulate $550,000 over the next two years.  It says it will also pay workers $450,000 from a deal allowing Kopper Glo Mining to buy two Blackjewel mines.

Meantime, the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office says it will investigate whether coal companies are posting performance bonds intended to secure employees wages.

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at You can also follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.