Blackjewel miners’ encampment protest wins back pay

By Maggie Trowe
November 11, 2019
Blackjewel Employees Stand Together

Coal miners in Cumberland, Kentucky, who blocked a coal train for two months, have won their fight to get the wages owed them. Their final paychecks had been clawed back by bankrupt Blackjewel bosses in July.

“The credit for this settlement belongs to the miners and their families who blocked the railway tracks,” Ned Pillersdorf, attorney for the Blackjewel miners in the bankruptcy court, told miners and supporters Oct. 24.

Blackjewel, then the sixth-largest coal mining company in the U.S., declared bankruptcy July 1 and laid off 300 miners in Kentucky and 1,400 more in Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

On July 29 when miners learned Blackjewel was loading and preparing to haul out coal produced by their unpaid labor, they occupied the tracks. They won broad solidarity and material support from the community and beyond.

“Wonderful news,” Donna Sexton, mother of laid-off Blackjewel miner Chris Sexton, the first to block the tracks, texted the Militant Oct. 25. “It just proves to the world that if you stand together as a whole, you can stop a train.”

“It was worth the struggle,” Stacy Rowe, wife of miner Chris Rowe, told the Militant two days later. Chris and Stacy slept in a tent at the camp for two months. “A lot of people had guts. I don’t think we would have gotten our money if we hadn’t protested. It would have gotten swept under the rug the way it always does when big companies hurt workers.”

“We really appreciate the effort people put in coming to see us and showing their support,” she added. “We would not have won without the support.”