Former Blackjewel employees could receive back pay under proposal

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.

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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