Community rallies behind protesting miners

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, August 1, 2019

Miners nearing almost a week-long protest at Sand Hill Bottom Road continue with the support of their community around them, hoping for a positive outcome in the end. Throughout the protest, many community members and businesses have offered words of encouragement and provided a variety of goods to help miners in their quest for justice and a paycheck many believe they rightfully deserve.

Benjamin Collier, a business agent for the Local Union 248 of eastern Kentucky, said he brought a group of men from all over the state to help support the miners in their protest.

“These guys are apprentices in a training program and we’ve been studying labor history this week, and when we heard about this on the news, we went in this morning and said let’s just go,” Collier said. “Instead of talking about labor history, let’s go be labor history — standing together, showing them what solidarity really is, 100 percent absolute support.

“All these guys we brought are from all over eastern Kentucky, including West Liberty, Sandy Hook, Pikeville, Salyersville, just about everywhere. We’ve got 24 counties in our jurisdiction.”

Donna Breeding, a Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation (MCHC) employee, said the amount of support the miners are receiving from the community is incredible and she would be set up for the miners “as long as they need us.”

“We can sign them up for insurance to see if they can get it,” Breeding said. “If they qualify, we can go ahead and sign them up and take it and put it in the computer. Or, they can check on our black lung program, we’re in all the counties here, and we can get them signed up on their black lung and take that to our clinic too.

“It’s hard for them to get to us so we came to them today with some water to see if we can help.”

Dr. Abdul Dahhan was one of many to send supplies to Cumberland for those protesting in the summer heat, including drinks and snacks, saying it’s a time for businesses in Harlan to step up and support the miners.

“I want to extend my support and thoughts to these miners,” Dahhan said. “I feel these people are protesting a just cause and it’s symbolic to show we care about them because miners are the backbone, the economy, of this county.

“When miners aren’t working, the entire community is effected, even the medical industry. We need someone stable to run these mines to help provide stability for our workers.”

Panda Garden owner Joyce Cheng also helped protesters by delivering food boxes to the miners free of charge. Harlan native Jenny Blanton purchased 40 of Cheng’s $25 gift cards to give to the miners to be used toward gas, groceries and other necessities.

Blanton drove from home in Lexington to stand on top of a flatbed truck with a bullhorn and deliver a speech to the miners, saying “the world is watching” and was on their side. Blanton also told the crowd she sent a letter to President Donald Trump regarding the issue miners are being faced with and that he responded to her, stating the matter is now under investigation.

Blanton yelled to the miners during her speech, “We are no longer Bloody Harlan, but Mighty Harlan!”

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin also posted on social media saying, “Coal miners in Harlan County NEED our support after Blackjewel mining left them without jobs and their most recent paychecks.”

Bevin went on to encourage people to support the miners and donate what they could to funds going toward helping the miners impacted by Blackjewel’s bankruptcy filing.

“Let’s take care of each other. This is what being a family, what being a Kentuckian, is all about,” Bevin said.

Miners said they will continue to protest until some form of agreement is reached and they are paid for the services they provided to the company.