AG looking out for interests of other miners

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – After learning that Blackjewel LLC, a coal company that recently filed bankruptcy, failed to post a performance bond that would have covered the cost of payroll for their workers, Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Tuesday that he is seeking the necessary information to ensure other miners are not at risk.

Under Kentucky law, Blackjewel and other mining companies that have been doing business in the state for less than five consecutive years are required to furnish a performance bond to the Labor Cabinet to assure the payment of wages if the employer ceases operation. The bond amount should be enough to cover the company’s payroll for four weeks at full capacity.

With no bond in place, Blackjewel’s bankruptcy and closure in July left miners and other employees unpaid for work already performed. The Labor Cabinet secretary told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “There is no mechanism in the law for the Labor Cabinet to figure out when a new company has opened in the state that is supposed to post a bond.”

To protect other Kentucky miners and their families, Beshear says he will be reviewing a list of companies that have secured mining permits in Kentucky over the last five years. He will determine which companies are required to provide a performance bond under the law, then ensure the bonds have been filed with the Labor Cabinet.

“I have asked my office to seek the information necessary to determine if other workers and their families could be left in the same situation,” Beshear said. “Our Kentucky families deserve to be protected. I am going help make sure no other families are at risk.”

Approximately 600 Kentucky workers and 480 from Virginia have reportedly missed their paychecks after Blackjewel unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy July 1.

Since learning of the complaints surrounding the closing of the Blackjewel mine in Harlan County, Beshear has taken action, having previously instructed his office to use all of its powers and resources to seek answers for those who have been harmed.

He has also dedicated an investigator to look into complaints on clawed-back paychecks and concerns about child support deductions and has reached out to local county attorneys on the child support issues. Mediators from Beshear’s office are available to help employees mitigate debts owed to individuals or businesses as a result of bounced paychecks.

Beshear also joined with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to ask for the immediate payment of all wages owed to company employees. In their request to the U. S. Bankruptcy Court Trustee July 16, the two attorneys general cited serious and ongoing financial harm experienced by miners in Kentucky and Virginia following Blackjewel’s haphazard bankruptcy.

Anyone with complaints or information regarding Blackjewel’s bankruptcy should contact the AG’s office at (502) 696-5300 and ask for Jan Velez. Beshear’s office will track and route each caller to the appropriate contact.

Earlier this month, a federal judge approved Contura Energy's bid for three mines owned by Blackjewel, in a deal that still needs approval by the federal government. Buyers have put money toward paying some of the roughly $11.8 million in pay and benefits due miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, Ohio Valley Resource reported.

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