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Kentucky miners, still seeking back pay, end coal train protest after two months

Coal miners in Kentucky who began blocking the tracks of a train in late July after the company they worked for filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy have ended their protest, Cumberland Mayor Charles Raleigh said Saturday.

The sudden bankruptcy filing July 1 by mine operator Blackjewel left hundreds of workers without pay. Some of the former employees began their blockade of the coal train after it arrived on Blackjewel property in late July.

While the protest is over, the fight for lost jobs and wages will continue in bankruptcy court, Raleigh said.

“The miners stayed the course, but had to find other work to provide for their families,” Raleigh told CNN.

As the protest wrapped up Thursday, miner Chris Rowe told CNN affiliate WYMT that he and his wife were at the tracks from the beginning, and during the past two months only went home to take showers. He had mixed emotions about ending the blockade.

“Happy that I’m going home. Not really satisfied because we were unable to see it all through, but you know, like I said, people have lives to live, and we gotta go on and do what we gotta do,” Rowe said.

Rowe was going to leave to become a truck driver.

“I hate all this happened, but maybe it was a blessing in disguise because we got the opportunity we did for him to go on the road and drive and we’ll be with him all the time,” his wife, Stacy, said.

WYMT reported the Rowes were the last protesters to leave.

Miners in settlement talks

In August the Richard and Leslie Gilliam Foundation donated more than $1 million to give 508 Blackjewel miners in immediate need $2,000 each. The checks went to community assistance groups in Harlan and in other mining communities affected by the bankruptcy.

Raleigh said the Harlan miners ended their protest on their own terms.

“The system failed these men, there should be people held accountable for not assuring that laws in place were not followed,” Raleigh said.

Settlement negotiations are underway between Blackjewel, the US Department of Labor and the miners, according to attorney Joe Childers, who represents approximately 1,100 miners across Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia in a class-action lawsuit that is awaiting certification.

Childers said he could not elaborate on the nature of the current negotiations, but noted that if settlement negotiations are not fruitful by October 1, a judge has ordered that the parties engage in mediation.

Last Friday, Labor Department officials announced a $3.7 million award to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, which, a new release said, will “provide for the continuation of employment and training services to dislocated workers impacted by layoffs from the coal industry in the eastern portion of Kentucky, including miners affected by the Blackjewel LLC bankruptcy.”

The coal train remains on the tracks and lawsuits are still ongoing. A status report filed by the Department of Labor last week shows Blackjewel and the department were still in talks over the train and whether it should be moved.

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