Bankruptcy laws in the United States have grown so corporate-friendly that if a company goes belly-up, employees are going to be the real losers. Such is the case in Kentucky, where coal miners are preventing a train of coal from moving by holding a sit-in on the railroad tracks.
A Washington Post interview with the Blackjewel miners revealed the heartbreaking realities of families who had their salaries taken from their account and haven't been paid for their work. Blackjewel filed for bankruptcy as the coal industry is slowly falling to cheaper options in the free markets.
Chris Rowe just bought his first home in the Kentucky mining town. Just days later, he was laid off along with the rest of the works. The company gave no signal that anything was wrong and no warning or settlements to workers.
"The same situation may have happened to others, but we are the ones making a stand," 35-year-old Rowe told The Post. "We mined the coal and broke our backs to get that coal, so that coal belongs to us until they pay for it."
Chris Sexton and 1800 more workers are in the same boat.
"We had just bought a washer, and then the bank pulled the money back out, and it made our account negative," said Rowe's wife Stacy.
That's when miners called each other and decided to opt for an act of civil disobedience.
Missouri farmer Wayne Cryts drove 12 hours just to support the miners' non-violent war against Blackjewl. He has experience with companies that go bankrupt and ultimately take people down with them. In the 1980s he almost lost 31,000 bushels of soybeans because the company he used to store it filed for bankruptcy. Court proceedings restricted his options, so he and allies forced their way into the grain elevator to get the crop. It caused a huge legal battle and Cryts ultimately ended up in jail.
"I can tell you from experience, that coal is the only leverage you got," Cryts explained.
Blackjewel isn't the first coal company to file for bankruptcy, as alternative fuels and green energy are becoming more popular.
Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a bankruptcy law expert and developed a plan that would protect workers when a corporation files for bankruptcy protection. CEOs and other top executives wouldn't be allowed to score significant bonuses while filing for bankruptcy under her plan. Currently, Blackjewel could legally take all of their money and run and refuse to pay their workers.
"Let's call this what it is: legalized looting — looting that makes a handful of Wall Street managers very rich while costing thousands of people their jobs, putting valuable companies out of business, and hurting communities across the country," Warren wrote in a blog post detailing her plan.
"If that train leaves, we ain't got nothing," said Sexton, who is owed $5,000 from BlackJewel. "This is all we got left, because we mined it and still ain't got paid for it."
The company is selling off mines across the country and told workers that one of "the buyer has committed to assume and pay outstanding employee obligations," a statement from interim CEO David Beckman said.
President Donald Trump promised miners he would save their jobs when he ran for president in 2016. While Trump has been willing to bailout farmers due to his trade tariffs, he has yet to step in to help coal miners.