Coal miners still protesting in Kentucky; reject proposed settlement for back pay

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THE coal train that Kentucky coal miners have prevented from leaving the mine until they are paid back wages.
Chris Anderson
Coal miners are physically blocking a CSX Transportation branch leading to a Kentucky coal mine. Miners claim they are owed back wages of as much as $4,000 each.
Chris Anderson
CUMBERLAND, Ky. — The protest by a group of coal miners who are blocking a CSX Transportation branch line in eastern Kentucky over unpaid wages is in its third week and, based upon recent developments, the protest looks to continue on.

The protestors who are blocking CSX's Poor Fork Branch near Cumberland say they have rejected an offer from KopperGlo Mining which would end the protest and essentially open the rail line back up. KopperGlo recently purchased the former Blackjewel Mining Cloverfork No. 3 mine. Chris Rowe, an out-of-work and unpaid coal miner who has become the unofficial spokesperson for the protestors, tells Trains News Wire that Tennessee-based KopperGlo offered to put the protesting miners back to work and pay them an average of $800 each toward their unpaid wages left in the wake of Blackjewel Mining's bankruptcy filing in exchange for ending the protest and clearing the CSX tracks.

He also says KopperGlo has also offered to attempt to pay them the remainder of their unpaid wages over time as coal is produced going forward. Rowe says the protesting miners have rejected the offer.

"They're offering $800 in exchange for $4,000 in unpaid wages," Rowe says. "The way we see it, we've already worked for it once, so we're not interested in doing the work twice and getting paid for it once."

Calls to KopperGlo seeking comment were not returned.

Protestors, including several out-of-work and unpaid coal miners, continue their human blockade of the former Louisville & Nashville branch line while discussions to end the protest and possibly put the miners back to work are ongoing. The protest by former Blackjewel Mining employees began July 29 when they stood in the path of a CSX coal train attempting to leave the Cloverfork No. 3 mine near the small city of Cumberland in Harlan County.

The miners were employees of Blackjewel when the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a filing which eventually led to the company's accounts being frozen and, as a result, its employees' paychecks being recalled, leaving them unpaid for their work. The miners claim the coal loaded in the train's approximately 80 hopper cars is coal they worked to produce but for which they have yet to be compensated. They have vowed to not let the train leave until they are paid for the work they have already performed, although they did allow CSX to retrieve the locomotives which pulled the train.

Rowe tells Trains that he and his group of protesting miners remain in discussions with KopperGlo in attempts to resolve the situation. The company recently purchased the mine and several other former Blackjewel sites at a bankruptcy auction to help settle Blackjewel's debts. Rowe says he and many other miners are awaiting payment of as much as $4,000 in unpaid wages.

Rowe says CSX has not made any more attempts to move the train which was at the center of the protest. He says the railroad has expressed support for the miners, but he could not specify whether that support came from local employees of the railroad or from the railroad's corporate offices in Jacksonville, Fla.

A spokesperson for CSX tells Trains the railroad has no new information to share about the situation.

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