Mosley organizes to help laid-off miners

Blackjewel employees, who were recently laid off as part of a bankruptcy filing, were invited to the Harlan County Courthouse by Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley on Monday. More than 300 miners from parts of Kentucky and Virginia were in attendance to receive information about services available to them.

Hundreds of coal miners from mines in Cumberland, Holmes Mill and Lone Mountain were laid off after one of the largest coal producers in the nation filed for bankruptcy at the start of the month.

“This is absolutely the most unthinkable thing I think I’ve ever witnessed,” Mosley told those in attendance.

Mosley noted that, over time, many people have been laid off and sent to the unemployment line, but these miners were given no notice.

“All they know is they’re not working today and the paycheck they got for the services they provided for this company for the first two weeks of June has bounced out of their checking account, and now they’re in undue financial burden because the mismanagement of this company,” Mosley said. “It’s just flat out unacceptable and it’s a shame we’re even talking about this today.”

Mosley said he received a phone call on July 1 from a friend who works in the mining industry, giving him notice of the impending bankruptcy filing. Mosley told him he had heard there were financial issues in the company, but he didn’t think it was as extensive.

“I equated it to, they were going to do a corporate restructuring because you see this all the time,” Mosley said referencing his time spent in the banking business. “Everything will keep going on, as usual, I thought, but then Tuesday rolled around.”

Mosley said he thought the miners were sent home as part of the Fourth of July holiday, when most miners take their vacations, with the understanding they would receive vacation pay and be back to work on Monday.

“Well, that didn’t happen,” Mosley said. “Today’s Monday and they’re here with me, unfortunately, and not at work.”

Mosley added the Harlan County Fiscal Court will be contracting Ned Pillersdorf, an attorney in the region, to “navigate these folks through this process and the county that’s owed $55,000 in back taxes from this company.”

“Ned, of course, has a plethora of experience with people who’ve been wronged,” Mosley said. “We just saw him represent people who had their social security benefits stripped by the bad practices of Eric C. Conn.

“These miners have been wronged, their families have been wronged, our community has been wronged, and we feel like he has the expertise to navigate us through this process and help make these people whole again.”

Mara Whitaker, a coal miners’ wife, said they’re about to lose their house and their car because of the events that have transpired.

“I believe the company knew enough in advance to tell everyone,” Whitaker said. “It wasn’t just an overnight thing.”

Whitaker said she’s also worried about her daughter’s medical needs. Without her husband’s health insurance, Whitaker said she doesn’t know how her daughter will get to and from her speech therapy sessions. Whitaker said her daughter was born with hearing loss in both ears and, without insurance, may not be able to keep appointments with her hearing specialist.

“You know, I see the kids playing and smiling, and all I can think is that I don’t want them to be weighed down by what’s going on,” Whitaker said about her three children. Driving in and seeing all the miners is heartbreaking. Coal is like the heartbeat of our community. People talk bad about Harlan, but when something like this happens, we all come together to help each other.

“I don’t expect them to get paid. We just got to put our faith and trust in God that he knows what he’s doing.”

When asked about her thoughts on Jeff Hoops statement regarding the current situation, Whitaker expressed her frustration with his company’s actions.

“That was a pretty low blow considering he’s the reason all this got started,” Whitaker said. “People get comfortable in their higher-up positions.”

Mosley added that the attorney general of the state has opened an investigation, directing his people to look into the matter. Mosley said the department of labor has also issued an investigation.

“There’s a lot of people with a lot of eyes on this,” Mosley said.

Mosley said many families are reporting money being taken out of their paychecks for their 401K, but that they have yet to see it added. Other reports include child support being garnished from their wages without being forwarded to the state.

“People could have bench warrants against them for not paying their child support because somebody took it out of their check and didn’t send it to the state,” Mosley said. “I don’t know how there’s not criminal charges brought against someone as a result of this because it’s so wrong on so many levels.”

Coal miner Eric Cox said his family filed their taxes in February and they still have yet to receive their income taxes, adding the two 60-day notices they’ve received saying the IRS is working on it.

“I’ve worked for 26 years and this is the worst that a company’s ever treated me,” Cox said. “Hoops is a crook, and I’ll never work for him again. They’re a very unorganized group.”

Mosley’s invitation for miners to come to the courthouse on Monday resulted in a large crowd of families searching for support. Various booths were set up to give miners the information they need and explain the next steps they should take.

One of the goals of the meet-up was to create an immediate needs list, resulting in more than 160 people signing up stating some form of need. Some of the needs were met through the Community Action Agency (CAA), while banks and finance companies extend payments for homes and automobiles for a 30-day period in order to help families get back on their feet.

Another meeting was held on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for any business, church, non-profit or organization wanting to make an effort to help the families as well.

Mosley urged those who have not done so already to call the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division to report that their checks had bounced. Mosley instructed miners to give workers their complete information so that a database may be formed of those impacted by the situation. The number for the office is 502-564-3534.

“We have a great community and many that are willing to step up and help,” Mosley said in a Facebook post following the event. “Now we have a coordinated way to do so.”

SCORE International-Domestic and Hunt Brothers Pizza worked together to provide dinner for the families impacted by the Blackjewel layoff. The families were invited to the Harlan Center parking lot after the meet-up on Monday from 6 to 7 p.m. to receive a free pizza.

Multiple businesses and organizations in Harlan are accepting donations for the miners.

Harlan Vapors will be taking $1 from every purchase from now until Sunday to divide among the families impacted by the layoffs. They are also accepting donations.

HCCAA will be accepting donations to help pay for rent, utilities and food for the families. Donations may be dropped off at HCCAA to April Vargas from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. HCCAA is located at 319 Camden Street, Harlan.

A GoFundMe account has also been set up to help the affected families buy groceries and pay their bills. For more information, go to www.gofundme.com/helping-kentucky-coal-miners.