By Nicole Chavez and Rebekah Riess | CNN
Miners in eastern Kentucky are blocking a train loaded with coal from moving, saying the company they work for hasn’t paid them since mid-December, CNN affiliate WYMT reported.
The group has been camping on the tracks outside the Quest Energy mine in Kimper, Kentucky since Monday. They said about 50 people have not been paid for their work since December 16 and will not go back into the mine until their paychecks are in their bank accounts, WYMT reported.
The mine owners, American Resources Corporation said Thursday that all employees “have been paid what they were owed.”
“Unfortunately what they are demanding now is ransom and spreading lies at the expense of all of the rest of our amazing employees, which have reached out with great support for the company and their jobs,” the company said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate the lies that are being spread by them as it could cost all the rest of our 200+ employees future employment in an already challenged industry. We … hope these few people understand their actions may put the rest of these hard working men and women out of work.”
On Monday, the company said in a statement to CNN that it was behind eight days in paying some employees and others are just behind one day.
The late payments, ARC said, were due to efforts to make a few of their mines more productive, coupled with a short term blip in the coal markets, which has created “a few short term issues.”
“First money into our company always goes to pay the men and women — they are the life line of the company. They will all be paid and our team has always been a priority of ours,” ARC said in the Monday statement.
The company said they were working to resolve the paychecks issue.
“Given challenging markets we are focused on ensuring the longevity of the employment for all the men and women of our organization and will shortly have all this resolved and excited to continue to provide jobs in an area that has had challenges given the decline of coal usage,” the statement said.
CSX, which owns the rail line, said its employees retrieved one of their engines from the mine on Monday and left the loaded coal cars on the tracks due to the protests.
More Kentucky miners held protests last year
Coal miners protested for months, blocking train tracks after mine operator Blackjewel filed for bankruptcy and left hundreds of workers without pay last year.
Dozens of employees in Cumberland, a town of about 2,200 in Harlan County in southeastern Kentucky, showed up to block the tracks — angry that they mined the coal, but didn’t get paid for the work.
The coal operator owed its 1,700 miners about $5 million in back pay, attorney Joe Childers, whose firm represented the miners in litigation with the employer, told CNN in July.
When the company filed for bankruptcy, it prevented miners from accessing their retirement funds, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said at the time.
The miners received their money in October after a settlement for $5.1 million was reached with Blackjewel Sales and Marketing, Childers told CNN.
Kentucky miners block coal train over back pay