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Collapsing Coal Industry Leaves Miners Fighting for Benefits, Back Pay

More than 1,000 coal miners were laid off after West Virginia-based Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (Adobe Stock)
More than 1,000 coal miners were laid off after West Virginia-based Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (Adobe Stock)
August 15, 2019

WHITESBURG, Ky. – A wave of coal company bankruptcies has left miners fighting for back pay and medical benefits.

Three large coal producers have gone under this year. At the same time, an epidemic of black lung disease is sweeping many coal mining communities.

Letcher County resident Patty Amburgey says her husband, a coal miner, died from decades of exposure to coal dust. They were married for 45 years.

"It destroyed his body,” she says. “It's like a storm went through and there wasn't nothing left."

Last month miners traveled to Washington to press lawmakers on legislation that would ensure retired miners suffering from black lung disease and their families are paid disability benefits when a miner's employer has gone bankrupt.

Known as the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act, the bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and is funded through an excise tax.

Bankruptcy is a real fear as the coal industry continues to atrophy.

Amburgey says it's not just miners with black lung who are suffering.

"Every day, I changed his bed and bathed him,” she relates. “It takes a toll not only on the person that has black lung, it takes a toll on the whole family.

“It leaves a mark that can't be erased nowhere. It leaves it on your heart and soul."

Meanwhile, miners in Harlan County continue to protest for the third straight week, after their employer, Blackjewel. went bankrupt without paying them for their work.

A group of miners continues to camp out, blocking coal trains near Cumberland and demanding missing paychecks.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY