Botched Bankruptcy Leads to Standoff in Kentucky Coal Country – by Jeremy Hill (Bloomberg News – September 3, 2019)

(Bloomberg) — Anyone approaching the railroad tracks late last month from U.S. Route 119 outside Cumberland, Kentucky, would have seen the mass of pop-up tents, and perhaps the hand-scrawled sign in capital letters, darkened from heavy rain: “COAL OR WORKERS — WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?”

A little more than a mile down the tracks, some 100 CSX Corp. railcars are piled high with coal mined by Blackjewel LLC from the hills of Harlan County. David Pratt Jr., a 29-year-old father of three, is one of more than 200 people who helped dig out that coal and haven’t been paid for it.

That’s why he’s helped block the tracks that lead out of the coal mine south of Cumberland for more than a month. No wages, no coal. “They can’t railroad us,” said Pratt, among about 1,700 people idled across the country after Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 1.

Pratt’s paycheck for the first half of June bounced, and the second one never came. The same had happened to other miners that milled about camp that day.

Early court papers said the back wages total at least $664,000. “That’s money that we’ve worked for — all the Blackjewel employees — that we earned,” Pratt said. “We deserve it.” Making good on payroll is usually routine in bankruptcy, one of the first matters of business.

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