Bringing back American coal jobs was a core part of President Trump’s platform in 2016, but he’s struggled to make gains on that front. Even as he touts his victories, coal jobs are becoming more scarce. And then, there’s what’s happening to Kentucky miners.
Blackjewel, a mining operation, filed for bankruptcy without warning on July 1, leaving 400 workers without pay for the month. As their second month without pay is about to begin, dozens of miners are showing up to train tracks to block the shipments of coal they mined, but won’t be paid for. The protests on Monday and Tuesday have remained peaceful.
Miners sat on the train tracks, played cornhole and took turns in a human chain to block the train. A handwritten sign read “No pay, we stay” and as many as 100 demonstrators were on the scene at times.
The mayor of Cumberland, Kentucky — where the miners live — explained the shock of the situation on the community.
“The miners showed up one day and the gates were locked with no notice,” he said.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear — who is also the Democratic for the 2019 gubernatorial race — has been monitoring the situation, but made it clear supports the miners. Beshear pointed out that not only are the miners going without pay, but the bankruptcy blocks them from accessing their 401Ks, putting them in a dire situation. And this is where Mitch McConnell enters the story.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has a long-standing feud with his home state’s miners. Miners have been asking McConnell to address insolvency in their retirement plan for years to no avail. United Mine Workers of America’s (UMWA) 1974 Pension Plan is in crisis, and bankruptcies like Blackjewel’s are exacerbating that crisis. McConnell, however, has stalled efforts to address the issue for nine years. Instead, he advises a bipartisan, bicameral effort to resolve the issue.
McConnell’s silence on the specific case of Blackjewel also reflects other situations where workers have gone without pay in recent memory — most notably the record-setting government shutdown last winter. McConnell infamously refused to act on efforts to end the shutdown if he felt those efforts lacked President Trump’s support.
And just as the shutdown exposed the ways in which Americans struggled financially, so too are the Blackjewel miners struggling.
“The miners can’t draw unemployment because they technically were not fired and they didn’t quit,” said Raleigh. “They can’t get medical insurance, so they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
And their struggles are far from over as their second month without pay begins.
(Featured image: WYMT/Fair Use)
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.