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Botched Bankruptcy Leads to Standoff in Kentucky Coal Country

  • Miners stiffed on their pay are blocking fully loaded trains
  • They’re getting by on donations as lawyers and advisers tussle
Supporters of miners stand on train tracks in Cumberland, Kentucky on Aug. 2.
Supporters of miners stand on train tracks in Cumberland, Kentucky on Aug. 2.Photographer: Meg Roussos/Bloomberg

Anyone approaching the railroad tracks late last month from U.S. Route 119 outside Cumberland, Kentucky, would have seen the mass of pop-up tents, and perhaps the hand-scrawled sign in capital letters, darkened from heavy rain: “COAL OR WORKERS -- WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?”

A little more than a mile down the tracks, some 100 CSX Corp. railcars are piled high with coal mined by Blackjewel LLC from the hills of Harlan County. David Pratt Jr., a 29-year-old father of three, is one of more than 200 people who helped dig out that coal and haven’t been paid for it. That’s why he’s helped block the tracks that lead out of the coal mine south of Cumberland for more than a month. No wages, no coal.