Former Blackjewel employees could receive back pay under proposal

Coal miners who blocked train tracks in Kentucky demanding to get paid for the coal they mined will benefit from a federal deal with the bankrupt company.

HARLAN COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – Former employees of bankrupt Blackjewel coal company could receive payments under a proposal filed this week, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The report says the deal calls for Blackjewel to pay $17.3 million to cover wages the employees would have received in the weeks leading up to the bankruptcy filing last year.

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The affected employees claim the company didn’t give them the required notice that they would be laid-off before the bankruptcy filing.

Sam Petsonk, a West Virginia attorney who represents former Blackjewel employees, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the proposed settlement would provide 44-days’ worth of pay for each former worker.

A judge still has to approve the proposed settlement.  Attorneys for the company asked for a hearing Oct. 9, according to the report.

Blackjewel had 1,100 employees in mines in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Wyoming when it filed for bankruptcy July 1, 2019.

The company said at the time it planned to get a loan as part of the bankruptcy and stay in business, but that the loan didn’t come through, leading to the abrupt closure, which put its employees out of work overnight.

Then, the final paycheck issued to employees bounced.  The workers anger and frustration over the sudden layoffs and bounced checks led to a protest on railroad tracks in Harlan County where workers blocked a shipment of Blackjewel coal from leaving for two months.

The coal miners said at the time, the train cars were full of coal they had mined but didn’t get paid for, so they wouldn’t allow the train to move.

The workers eventually received their final paychecks, but sued over the lack of layoff notice under the WARN Act.  The act requires companies above a certain size to give employees 60 days’ notice of an upcoming mass layoff.  Blackjewel employees say they didn’t receive any notice.


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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.