‘No Pay, We Stay’; Protesting Miners In Harlan County Are Not Going Anywhere
Above Photo: First Baptist Church from Westminster, South Carolina brought food and water to protesting Blackjewel miners on Day 2 in Harlan County. // Will Puckett
HARLAN COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) – 3:15 p.m. Tuesday
People and organizations continued to stop by a railroad track in Cumberland Tuesday, bringing food and water to protesting miners. The miners have prevented a train hauling coal from the Cloverlick #3 mine for more than 24 hours.
“I just seen these people and they need help. I know what it’s like to go without a paycheck,” said owner Nathan Brown. “I think they already know their community supports them. I seen a lot of people dropping off water and stuff and I think that’s really cool.”
Community members indicated that they will continue to help each other out as long as the miners are left in the dark.
“My family has mined these mines as long as I can remember, so the pride we have in each other when we’re in need in Eastern Kentucky. We step up and help each other,” said Brown.
A CSX spokesperson sent WYMT a statement on behalf of the rail company:
“CSX is monitoring the situation in Harlan County, KY. We understand this is related to a dispute between the mining company and its workers. CSX has taken precautions to ensure the safety of our employees and hopes for a quick resolution.”
At this point, the miners would like to forget everything that happened since July 1st, when Blackjewel filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“My wife picks my check up, pays a few bills. Next thing we know our account’s three thousand in the negative and our accounts frozen,” said Jeff Willig.
He and his wife have six kids. Willig was one of the first miners out Monday when word got out that a coal train was getting ready to haul away their hard work.
“It’s anger, you know. We mine that out and here you are going to sit here and load trains. We don’t know nothing, we have no idea of what’s going on,” said Willig.
“It is amazing to me what men have to do to get what they earned,” said Chris Rowe, another miner. “You know men, especially coal miners, are very tough strong men. But when it comes to your kids you’re going to break but not to be able to provide for him, or get anything for him, that hurts.”
Attorney General Andy Beshear made a statement Tuesday about the Blackjewel miners:
“I fully support our miners. Blackjewel failed to pay them for weeks of hard work and the way the company filed for bankruptcy prevents miners from accessing their 401ks, making it even harder for them to feed their families during this trying time.”
Blackjewel officials were scheduled to appear in court Wednesday, but now they are not expected in court again until Saturday. Plans are being made to try and take buses full of miners to Charleston, West Virginia for the hearing.
Cumberland Mayor Charles Raleigh said he is willing to bail Blackjewel miners out of jail if it comes to that.
“I’d do anything in my power to get them out. You know, I don’t have a lot of money, don’t come from a lot of money but I know a lot of people and I know a lot of goodhearted people that we’re gonna get them out one way or another,” Mayor Raleigh said.
Update 1:30 p.m. Tuesday
It has now been nearly 24 hours since a group of laid-off Harlan County miners started blocking a railroad track in Cumberland. A train pulling coal from the mine that left them without paychecks, 401ks and health benefits is at a standstill.
The miners are emotionally and physically exhausted, but they stand by their promise to not move until they get the money they are owed. These men and their families feel abandoned and forgotten by the company that owes them thousands.
Jeff Willig and his wife have six kids. All of them start school in two weeks, and as the days go on Willig is tired of not knowing where his money is or when it is coming.
“We go in, next thing you know we get called back out and don’t know what’s going on. ‘Guys, we will call you tomorrow or sometime this week.’ I’ve called Blackjewel myself personally,” said Willig. “No one will give you any answers. Still no pay, nothing, nothing at all.”
The group of miners is handling the circumstances as well as they can, but still say they will not move until they get their pay.
Several groups brought the protesters food and water. First Baptist Church came from Westminister, South Carolina to help. JonEvan Jack’s out of Corbin cooked the miners burgers and catfish.
Update 11 a.m. Tuesday
Tuesday afternoon will mark 24 hours since Blackjewel miners first saw a train loaded with coal they mined for free.
Miners are still set up a few miles down the railroad tracks, where they are blocking the train from leaving the Cloverlick #3 Mine. They were asked to leave a different location on the tracks Monday night, so they moved to this spot instead.
All of the miners out there have not been paid. Some are $3,000 in the hole, with their accounts frozen and bills delinquent.
“To get off these tracks today is for the company to contact each and every one of these miners for the whole company and say ‘your money will be handed back to you within whatever amount of days.’ But if we can be guaranteed that our money is going to be handed back to us, we can leave these tracks,” said Chris Rowe, a Cloverlick #3 miner.
The miners have signs that read “no pay, we stay.” Cars and trucks driving by are honking in support, and the community is rallying behind them.
Update 5 a.m. Tuesday
The protest continued through the night and into Tuesday morning.
More than 20 miners and their families camped out on the train tracks near Cumberland Monday night to make sure none of the coal loaded on the trains coming from the mine in Cloverlick was able to get in or out.
Miners have one clear message: Pay them for what they worked for. One of them told our Connor James that until they get some answers, they have no intention of moving.
“We get our money, this load of coal that’s on this train can go by. But until then, there’ll be no trains coming in, there’ll be no trains going out,” said Shane Smith, one of the miners affected by the Blackjewel bankruptcy.
Smith also told WYMT that he would go to jail before he would move, an answer that was common with some of the other miners participating in the protest.
“You know, we’re doing without money, food and everything else before our kids are starting back to school. We can’t even get clothes or nothing else for them, so it was like a kick in the face. That’s basically what it was,” said Chris Rowe, who worked at the Cloverlick #3 mine.
We’re told the miners and their families plan on working in shifts to keep the tracks blocked.
Overnight, people from the community brought food, water and chairs to those involved in the protest.
Update 10 p.m.
Miners and their families re-gathered at Sandhill Bottom and are blocking a train on the tracks.
The Mayor of Cumberland Charles Raleigh says around 60 to 100 people are blocking the tracks.
According to the Tri-City News, miners have started a corn hole tournament on the tracks.
Blackjewel miners are confused and frustrated as they try to find out why a train is carrying coal away from a mine in Harlan County. Some chose to take it into their own hands by standing on the tracks to keep the train from leaving.
WYMT began receiving messages before noon Monday about a train hauling something away from Cloverlick Mine 1.
The mine belongs to Revelation Energy LLC, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 1st along with its affiliate Blackjewel LLC. Since then, Blackjewel miners have been without work and without pay.
Viewer-submitted photos show the train loaded up with coal. A skeleton crew worked around the train.
Small groups of miners and individuals came to and from the mine’s gate. They tried yelling to the crew on the other side of the fence, asking what is happening to the coal. At least one miner was heard asking when he and his co-workers would be paid.
“Pay us. That’s all we want, our money, what we worked for, pay us. Regardless of if the company starts back up or not, they need to pay the men, cause we went in there and did do the job for them, you know what I’m saying?” said Chris Lewis, a former miner who is owed around $4,000.
So far, no one on the other side of the gate has responded.
Around 4:00 p.m. a group of five miners, most of whom worked at the Cloverlick mine, got on the tracks. Another man joined not long after. They are currently staring down the train and refusing to move, forcing the train to a standstill.
“They’re sitting here loading trains. So that’s exactly what we’re doing,” said one miner.
Police arrived at the scene and asked the protesters to step off of the tracks. We are told the protests have continued, but the train has been allowed to pass.
We reached out to Blackjewel’s bankruptcy attorney for an explanation but have not heard back yet.