The 2019 Harlan County coal miners protest was a labor protest held by dozens of coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky. The causes of the protest stemmed from the 2019 bankruptcy of Blackjewel Coal, a coal mining company that operated a mine in the county. Following the company's bankruptcy, former coal miners did not receive payment for several weeks of work, leading to many miners protesting by blocking a coal train on tracks in the county. The protest lasted from July 30 to September 28, with litigation continuing in bankruptcy courts.
On July 1, 2019, Blackjewel Coal filed for bankruptcy, leading to the abrupt firing of about 1,700 miners in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Following this, many of the affected workers reported bounced paychecks and being unable to access their 401(k) accounts. Shortly thereafter, a miner in Wyoming filed a class-action lawsuit against Blackjewel, arguing that they violated workers rights under the WARN Act.
On July 29, Blackjewel was scheduled to move $1 million worth of coal out of a mine in Harlan County, Kentucky via a CSX Railroad track. Before the train left the county, five former miners occupied a section of the track, not allowing the train to proceed. Following this, security guards for the company called police, and afterwards the protestors moved to another location on the tracks, still blocking the train's movements. Additional people joined the protest, with over 100 people occupying the tracks during the protest. Several days after the occupation began, protestors agreed to allow several unloaded cars pass, but continued to hold the loaded coal train stationary. On August 1, former Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo visited the protestors, criticizing Blackjewel and the Kentucky Labor Department for failing to hold the company accountable for workers rights violations. The next day, 2020 Democratic Party Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders voiced his support for the protestors and sent pizzas to the protestors. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and Senate candidate Amy McGrath also voiced their support for the protestors, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. In August, the Richard and Leslie Gilliam Foundation donated over $1 million to fired miners in Harlan County and other areas that were affected. On September 28, following almost 2 months of occupying the railroad, the mayor of Cumberland, Kentucky, where many of the protestors lived, announced an end to the protest. Many of the fired miners had found employment elsewhere, and settlement talks were underway with the company and fired workers.
In October, as part of the company's bankruptcy settlement, $5.47 million was awarded to fired miners, including those in Harlan County.
A similar train blockade occurred in January 2020 in Pike County, Kentucky. On January 13, miners for Quest Energy occupied a railroad track near Kemper, Kentucky and blocked a 120-car coal train from leaving, claiming that the company failed to pay them wages for three weeks. The protest ended on January 15, with the protesting miners receiving pay.
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