"Somebody's gotta stand up": Miners block coal from leaving Pike County after weeks without pay

Published: Jan. 13, 2020 at 4:55 PM EST
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Updated Tuesday

About a dozen miners are still on the tracks leaving Quest Energy in Kimper Tuesday, enduring the rainy weather as they demand the pay they are owed.

About 50 employees claim they have not been paid since mid-December.

"I'm starving. I about lost everything I own and I'm tired of it," said Dustin Maynard, one of the miners. "Somebody's gotta stand up to these guys and I guess it's us."

A spokesperson for Integrity Coal arrived on the tracks Tuesday afternoon and told the miners that the company paid for the coal on the tracks at 1 p.m. He negotiated with the men, asking them to let Integrity Coal move the coal cars, to which they responded, "When our bank accounts clear, you can have your train. Until then it ain't leaving."

Earlier that day, around 12:30 p.m., miners said they noticed a pay stub for two weeks' pay showed up in their work accounts. Now, some of the miners have money in their bank accounts, but others are still left with just a promise that the money will be there soon.

"A few minutes later mine hit. Mine come on my card it was in there. It wasn't three weeks worth it was two weeks worth," said one miner.

Tensions between the miners and management are high.

"If he'll pay us our other week and put it in writing that we've got a job and we ain't going to be treated no different way than what we've been treated we'll leave. Until then we're here," said one miner.

They say they do not believe the will ever work for Quest Energy again, so they will stay until the debt is paid.

"Never in my life did I think I would be standing here on a rainy day, on a train track, holding a train. I never in my life thought that it would come to this," one miner added.

The miners are tired of empty promises from their employer.

"Well here I am. I've got my bills pushed back. I've worked, but I ain't got paid. I'm in a bind. I'm in a bind and I'm way behind," said Maynard.

Pike County Judge Executive Ray Jones went to the tracks Tuesday and said the federal Department of Labor is gathering information to file for a federal restraining order to prevent the coal from moving. He is working with the Labor Cabinet to file claims for wage and hour violations as well.

"There's no excuse for not paying coal miners. Coal miners helped build this country and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. And the law should be enforced and they should be paid. This is becoming all too common," said Jones.

Our reporter talked to one miner who said this chain of events has been hard on him and his family.

"It's just hard on a person to see their kids and you know they know you're struggling," said Dalton Russell, who is trying to provide for his family. "You know what I mean?"

Russell said he was glad to find a job with Quest Energy five months ago, until he was fired last week when he was unable to make it to work.

"Called me back and told me if I couldn't make it just to go ahead and turn my stuff in," Russell said. "That I couldn't come back, because I didn't show up. Because I didn't have money. Because they ain't paid us."

He is one of the miners who still have not seen their paychecks land in their bank accounts.

"Stand out here and try to get what's owed to us. Ain't asking for handouts or anything like that. We are just asking for money for what we've worked," Russell said. "I've got kids at home, you know. And it's hard telling them that we ain't got money for things that they want. Toys and stuff. And bills backing up and phones cut off and stuff like that."

The father's biggest concern is not about money, but about peace of mind.

"My little girl was over here last night, and you know, they're young. They don't understand what's going on or anything. But they can tell when you're struggling. Even if you don't want them to know, they know. They see it," added Russell.

Though he would rather be with his family, the miner said he will stand by the tracks until he and the rest of the men get back their peace of mind.

Original Story, Monday

Pike County miners are blocking a train loaded with coal from leaving a mine in Kimper.

Several miners and their families stood on the tracks leading from Quest Energy in Blackburn Bottom Monday afternoon.

A train loaded down with coal is stuck on the tracks. A CSX crew went to the tracks to get the engine and left the loaded train cars there.

Miners said they worked from mid-December until now without getting paid for that work. They said they came home last Thursday after a 17-hour shift, expecting to be paid Friday, but that check never came.

They were told to wait until Monday and then the date was pushed back again. Now they just want to get what is owed to them.

"I don't know what else to do but try to stop the train from taking our coal out of here. If they want to pay us for our... for what we've worked, we'll let the train go," said one miner. "But, if not, we're gonna stand right here. We'll stand here for every coal miner that's ever been beat out of anything. It just ain't right."

Those on the tracks tell our reporter they will not go back into the mines until their paychecks are in their bank accounts.

"I'd say after tonight even if we do get to go back to work I ain't going to be able to cause I'm out here," said Dusty Maynard, a miner for Quest Energy.

"It's around anywhere from $24 to $3,000. And some of these men they owe more than that," said another miner.

Donations arrived within hours. People brought pizza, water and firewood.

"We knowed if we didn't do something to catch these coal operator's attention that we wouldn't get paid because all they do is give us empty promises," said one miner.

The American Resource Corporation, which owns Quest Energy, released a statement regarding the miners not getting paid.

Some of the employees are behind 8 days and some 1 day on their payday. They will all be paid as we don’t take this lightly. They have been paid since the 16th, so we are not sure where that number is coming from. We do not work men 17 hours as stated. We work a very normal mining schedule. We value the employees greatly for their work and their future work. Given challenging markets we are focused on ensuring the longevity of the employment for all the men and women of our organization.