Out-of-work Blackjewel miners stop train

Published 3:40 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Miners who previously worked for Blackjewel coal company began protesting Monday afternoon, blocking a train carrying coal from Cloverlick Mine No. 3. The miners believe the coal is the same coal they’ve not been paid for mining, sparking an almost 24-hour long protest for the money they’ve not yet been paid, many vowing to stand firm until they see their checks.

Reports of coal being loaded at the mine reached the ears of many laid-off miners, who then came to the Cloverlick mine wondering if any management was present and why coal was being loaded when they still have not been paid. As the train began rolling further down the tracks, miners decided to stand across the tracks and block the train from passing.

“We received a call that several individuals came up here and were blocking the tracks and wouldn’t allow a train to pass,” said Kentucky State Police trooper Danny Caudill. “When I arrived on scene, that number had been grossly overstated. There was not near the number of individuals that was reported. I made contact with the group and they were very understanding when I explained what the law was and they cooperated.”

Caudill added the train was still in the process of loading the coal and troopers were there to ensure the safety of the miners during their protest for the checks they were never paid.

“I ain’t got my last one, and that one bounced,” said laid-off miner Darrell Riley. “After everybody found out about it (the train), they tried to sneak it in here, but everybody found out about it and came up here.”

Riley said some miners had been there roughly five to six hours since the train first arrived.

“I don’t understand why no ones being held accountable for this,” said miner Bobby Sexton. “They won’t give anyone any explanations. There’s federal laws that (Jeff) Hoops has broken, and I know the court has seen what’s going on. How can you have an operation like that and not be held accountable? It blows my mind.”

Sexton said he drove to and from Corbin every day to work in the mines.

“On behalf of all of us Blackjewel miners, we’re all here trying to stop this train because we want our money,” said miner Shane Smith.

Smith said since Blackjewel’s bankruptcy filing, it has placed an enormous amount of stress on his family, as well as the other miners impacted by the layoffs.

“You know, this man here and this man here and myself, we got six kids. I had one the week we got shut down,” Smith said. “They’re taking food off our tables.

“Some of us can’t get unemployment, like myself. They won’t let me have it. I’ve sat on the phone today three and a half hours trying to get it and still can’t get it. The next guy can, but why can’t I? I’ve got $14,000 in it, but why can’t I get it?

“They won’t give us 401k they still owe us, some people $4,000 and $5,000, but yet they’re hauling coal out of here. So why can’t we get our money?

Smith added if the company is able to transport coal from the mine, they should be able to pay miners for the checks they’re still owed.

“I can understand you letting the coal set in a pile, because it’s going to get hot and it’s going to burn,” Smith said. “What’s going off on that train right now is our money that’s being hauled out of here. That’s what Cloverlick No. 3 and D-21 have mined that’s going down this track. It’s our money.

“If they can get that train in here, why can’t they give us our money or put us back to work? But yet, there’s no explanation. There’s nothing.

“They come in, we go to work on a Sunday and the third shift comes out Monday morning then day shift goes in. They work all shifts, and 45 minutes into second shifts work, they cut two cuts on each section, they pull the men out and say leave everything the way it sets. That’s the way it’s still setting. A month and a half later, you’ve got places on both sections that ain’t been bolted, that ain’t been cleaned and that ain’t been dusted.”

Smith added that while hourly-paid miners are unable to work and many unable to feed their families, managers and superintendents of the mines are able to “sit and draw their salary check while we get nothing.”

“I drove from Hazard, an hour and 15 minutes, to come and support my coal family. I had to scrap up change to get gas to support my group. When I showed up, I was probably about the 15th person out of these 20 or 30 people.”

Smith said that out of the vast number of miners in Harlan County, only a few came to support the protest Monday afternoon, but he’d like to see the rest of his “family” come and support the cause.

“Us men spend more time under that mountain than what we do at home with our kids. Us coal miners that live here in eastern Kentucky, we can’t work because they don’t want to pay because they get a joke that comes through and decides he’s gonna file Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“But yet when he goes to court, he owes so much in court and back taxes, that he can’t pay nothing. Yet he can sit in West Virginia and he can build his big resort,” Smith said.

Miners left the tracks across from the Southeast Community and Technical College campus and drove outside the city of Cumberland to set up again at the entrance to Sand Hill. KSP troopers accompanied the miners to their new protest location in order to make sure laws were being followed.

What began as a few miners from Cloverlick Mine #3, skyrocketed to nearly 100 people standing on the tracks to block the train from passing late into the night. Numbers eventually started to go down, but many stayed throughout the night to keep the train from passing. Some miners took turns sleeping in their cars while others stayed at the tracks. Miners, along with their family and friends, also set up corn hole boards and a bonfire to pass the time.

Community members continue to bring the miners food and water, setting up tents to help support their friends and family.

No one knows exactly how long miners plan on blocking the train, but many of the miners say they’d rather go to jail than let the train pass before they get paid.