Op-Ed

‘Heroes’ on the tracks. Attention to Kentucky miners’ plight gives them leverage.

These Kentucky miners blocked a train. They said they’re here to stay.

Out-of-work Blackjewel miners blocked a train hauling coal July 30 in Harlan County and continued their protest into July 31.
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Out-of-work Blackjewel miners blocked a train hauling coal July 30 in Harlan County and continued their protest into July 31.

The Widow Combs would like what is going on at the railroad tracks in Cumberland.

July and August have been tumultuous months here in the mountains.

When I was driving down to meet the assembled miners blocking the tracks in Cumberland I told the young lawyer and law student who were with me that their was an interesting confluence of events happening at the same time.

During the ride we learned that another federal judge had just ordered the reinstatement of benefits to the beleaguered former clients of Eric Conn after a long four year plus battle. Close to 400 have had their benefits reinstated by court order.

On the other hand, while there were always ups and downs during the legal battles for the Conn clients, I was always convinced there was a pathway for a good result for the Conn clients. I always believed the Joe McCarthy-like hearings could not stand legal scrutiny. It took much too long, but we won.

Driving to Cumberland that day, I observed that I did not see a positive pathway for the assembled miners.

Bankruptcy court is like a funeral home if you are a wage earner — no one leaves happy. I talked about how to tell the miners they were in a difficult situation.

Over the past two months a pathway has opened. The blockade of the tracks has brought national positive attention to the plight of the miners. You won’t find a soul in the mountains or elsewhere who won’t tell you how despicable it was to give them cold checks and no job with no notice.

If you sat through the long days in bankruptcy court in West Virginia, there has been a lot of talk. But not one word about the tracks still being blocked. It is the proverbial elephant in the room, that no one dares mention.

Yet, it has turned out to be a potential pathway to a good result I never saw coming.

The miners have something other wage earners don’t have in bankruptcy court. It is leverage.

The tracks stay blocked until they get paid.

I have no idea how this will turn out — all I know is that the Widow Combs would approve of the way the miners have taken a stand. The miners are my heroes.

Ned Pillersdorf has been a partner in Pillersdorf, DeRossett & Lane since the firm’s creation in the 1980s.

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