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Worker Settlement Tentatively Reached With Blackjewel Coal Mine

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Worker Settlement Tentatively Reached With Blackjewel Coal Mine

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In 2019, Blackjewel, a prominent coal-mining company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy before closing over 30 mines on the same day, leaving hundreds of workers suddenly without jobs or pay. A Wyoming miner David Engelbrecht quickly filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of other Wyoming Blackjewel miners affected by the sudden closure. In the lawsuit, Engelbrecht is seeking lost pay and benefits he believes that he and other similarly situated workers are entitled to under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which typically requires employers to provide written notice two months before closing an entirely business location or instituting mass layoffs.

Relief for the affected miners appears to be on its way.

A settlement was proposed in March of 2020 and made public in September; however, this settlement must first be approved by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court before the process of actually compensating the miners can begin. The proposed settlement includes over $17 million in back wages for affected miners, including 60% of what the workers would have received for two months of pay and benefits. Additional investigations into former Blackjewel CEO Jeffrey Hoops Sr. are underway to establish whether or not the former managing authority siphoned money from the company before its bankruptcy. Although no liability has been admitted, Hoops agreed to pay $125,000 of the settlement.

The WARN act is intended to protect workers from situations exactly like this.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 is an important labor law intended to protect U.S. workers and their families from the consequences of sudden closures and massive layoffs. This act applies to employers with at least 100 employees when closing a location will lead to the loss of at least 50 jobs. Similarly, this act applies when at least 500 workers are going to be laid off for 30 days or more. In these situations, the employer is required to provide workers with 60 days’ notice. This allows workers to plan ahead and begin looking for another job to support themselves and their families.

It is unclear how much money is left in Blackjewel’s estate after the bankruptcy.

The unique trouble with this lawsuit is the lack of clarity surrounding just how much money Blackjewel has left. Even if the settlement is approved, workers are not the only ones the mining company owes money to. Blackjewel will be expected to pay back all of its creditors as well, and it is unclear whether or not they will have the funds necessary to pay the proposed settlement. If this is the case, it could be a long time until the affected miners receive the checks from this settlement.

Unfortunately, this is a common issue when workers file against a bankrupt company. The next step is waiting for the court’s approval of the settlement, at which point workers will hopefully be informed of the status of their actual compensatory payments.

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