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Kentucky Miners Blocking a Coal Train, Demanding Their Stolen Wages (labornotes.org)
98 points by howard941 70 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

I work as a diesel mechanic for a chain of midwest shops and was immediately "triggered" by this article because its been an on-and-off part of my career for 15 years now.

Ive had shops where I wasnt paid, and told to just 'take it out as vacation.' ive also had shops that cut me a check that bounces, and shops that cut me a check only to issue a "stop payment" a few months later because well, the shop got taken to court for secretly running a car theft ring. "evaporating" paychecks are caused by a judge telling the accountants to quit paying everyone ASAP. I only got that paycheck 4 years after we were all fired, and only because the state labor board stepped in. For around 3 years I only accepted cash for my work, which is a legal request to make in most states despite what the boss tells you.

now for coal companies...thats a weird beast in itself. We had a contract last spring to service a fleet of XDE240s and showed up with everything we needed. cranes, hydraulics, an entire mobile shop for maintenance and transport, and were told 2 months into the work that they never authorized the work. we presented our bill of lading, contracts, and signed invoices and they never responded. We decided this must have been a mistake, so we completed the work and returned the vehicles expecting payment. The entire company was run by a paranoid elderly southerner who had died that year in a gun accident, and the work site was basically abandoned. We waited 3 months for a judge to start liquidating his assets before his kids returned from Europe and demanded his estate. Long story short we got about 70% of the payment, and ended up with the rest after the trucks and most of the old mans estate were auctioned.

> We waited 3 months for a judge to start liquidating his assets before his kids returned from Europe and demanded his estate.

Sadly, this is the only part of the story which stuck out to me as unusual, but then again, I'm not an heir to a coal fortune, so what do I know about such families.

Do you know what they were doing in Europe? My bias makes me think that they were coasting on the family fortune, but I suppose they could just as well be doing productive and industrious things over there. Either way, from what you write, it sounds like they weren't around for many months after their father's tragic end.

When I was in college I worked part time for a small PC repair and networking company that was occasionally on the brink of insolvency. On payday the employees would race each other to the company's bank to cash their checks because we knew there might not be enough in the account to pay everyone. Fun times.

All of these situations you describe sounds just awful. Please contact a trustworthy (I know, haha) lawyer on how to secure your hard work with a state-law mechanics lien.

Not getting last paychecks is just one of the ways coal workers can expect to get screwed. Bankruptcy courts have been letting companies get out of pension and retiree health benefits, government will wind up picking up the tab in many cases. Same with reclamation work secured by insufficient bonds. The Black Lung fund has an exploding deficit while numbers of workers coming down with it are going up because of higher silica content due to declining seams.

This is of course on top of the air pollution killing thousands and sickening millions, the CO2 emissions, and the toxic coal ash poisoning waterways that we get from burning it.

Coal is in a death spiral in the US, unfortunately there's quite a bit more misery for it to cause before its gone.

Yet those same workers the industry loves to poison will fight tooth and nail to keep working in the mines, up to and including voting for someone who will work to remove any and all benefits that would try to cover for that coal mine's negligence

They are just fighting for a living. If you give rural virginians an option they will be all ears.

Unfortunately, federal bankruptcy law puts workers far down the list of who gets paid, after business creditors and legal fees for the bankruptcy itself

It’s funny how the receiver’s fees always add up to exactly however much money is left in the company.

There's no good way around the liquidating trustee's cut that doesn't involve replacing the trustee in bankruptcy with a government employee, but Congress expressed its preference to outsource this function to private entities and that's what we have

Unfortunately, federal bankruptcy law puts workers far down the list of who gets paid, after business creditors and legal fees for the bankruptcy itself

This is mostly correct but wrong enough to deserve a bit of elaboration and a link. The Bankruptcy Code treats a small portion of ordinary wages as priority debts that get paid ahead of some other unsecured creditors including unsecured business creditors, but always after administrative expenses, and it's not a lot of money. For the entire list of people who get paid before employees as well as the priority amount see https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/11/507 section (A)(4)

It does?

When I had to wind down a company in Austin, Texas, pretty much everyone in arbitration and court on all sides of the table recognized that workers got paid first.

I wonder if that is local?

I seem to remember that just about everyone was terrified of contingent WARN_Act violation related claims that could take up to 4 years to trickle in, and that was definitely federal.

Workers generally have everything except the last paycheck already. No sane business (don't take that as any claim that most businesses are sane) doesn't pay their people first. If you don't get a paycheck on a regular basis you won't come back, so even when things are going bad employees are getting their money while suppliers aren't getting anything. When it finally gets to bankruptcy employees aren't really owed much, so it shouldn't matter.

Of course there are a lot of assumptions above. If any of the violations happen to you get ready to run before your good time is traded for more bad money.

Fair enough. Thank you.

I was mostly addressing the regulatory environment. I do not believe (unless I am very mis-informed) that employee paid wages are at the back-of-the-line in a liquidation procedure.

They're staunchly anti-union, anti-worker, and pro-corporation by vote. I think those workers are seeing the result of their votes.

> Their second-to-last paycheck, already deposited, evaporated out of their bank accounts.

Wait how is this possible? Doesn’t your own bank represent you? On what basis can bank transfer he reversed. Here in Australia the employer generally can never reverse funds out. If say someone gets double paid you’d just have to leave it there and adjust what you pay in the next pay run.

> Here in Australia the employer generally can never reverse funds out.

Not sure of the logistics but in USA direct deposit or ACH can be reversed without any authorization from the account holder.

One of my clients erroneously deposited somebody else's payment into my account, when I let them know they said they would fix it, I was surprised it didn't require any authorization from me, but it was gone the next day.

Probably silly question. But is there any benefit then in always quickly moving your funds out as soon as they come in?

1. What if I quickly withdrew the funds as cash (inconvenience aside)

2. If I transferred (auto-transferred) the funds to a second account be it same bank or different bank. What then?

The safest approach is to immediately cash the check at a branch of the bank on which the check is drawn. It's more difficult for bankruptcy trustees to claw back cash (although in theory they may have the legal right to do so in some cases). Unfortunately some banks will no longer cash their own checks if you don't have an account there.

You get charged a negative account balance penalty

Yeah if it's suddenly possible and legal for employers to start withdrawing from their employees accounts via direct deposit or something else then we have much bigger problems.

Your bank doesn't represent you, where did you get that naive idea from? I'd think a decade of Wells Fargo actively trying to rob their entire customer base in a blatantly illegal and out in the open scheme would shatter any of those illusions.

My public accounting prof. did a lot of consulting for smaller banks. Early in the semester, he made the entire class raise their right hand and repeat "Banks are not my friend" three times. He then advised us on things like keeping our checking account in a separate bank from our mortgage, etc. That lecture alone made the class worth the price, imo.

Although banks are banks no matter where you live. In Australia with have the “Australian Consumer & Competition Commission” (ACCC) which is a government agency and related consumer protection laws that have real teeth.

Although banks are probably regulated under separate legislation it’s usual to be able to call companies to account that engage in “misleading or deceptive practices” for example.

So I suppose I got the idea from living where I do.

More info: https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees

It's not clear how long ago the check was deposited but maybe it was stuck in pending. Direct deposits can show up in accounts before they're 100% processed through the transfer system so maybe they were in a pending state then when the company closed up all the pending transfers were canceled?

IIRC, ACH Deposits are also often pre-auth'd. When I worked at a Credit Union in college, we would get an ACH file that had preauth'd ACH deposits - usually from employers - and we would go ahead and credit the account that day. The actual deposit would come in the next business day.

The checks were deposited they did not clear. Depositing does not mean the funds are, or will be, available.


> and their paychecks from the end of June bounced, leaving many with negative bank account balances.

ACH transfers can definitely be reversed in the US.

I'm guessing the checks were drawn on an empty account? Banks will commonly front you the money before the check clears so that you have the money available before the longer process of the check clearing is completed.

See also: The common scam where somebody purchases an item from you and sends you a check, but the check is for more than the item cost; they ask you to send them the item plus the extra money the check was for. You deposit the check, pull out the extra, send it along with the item, and a week later the check bounces (or is discovered to be fraudulent), and the bank removes the money from your account, and they obviously don't refund the amount you withdrew to send to the scammer.

It doesn't normally happen with payroll checks, but it's not an unknown mechanism. If there's no money in the account that the check is drawn on, the bank won't furnish money out of the goodness of their hearts for the recipient.

Maybe the reporter got it wrong, but in any case the song should obviously be "I Want My Back Pay," which fits the meter and maintains the original single-syllable word impact of the original Backstreet Boys/Max Martin song refrain and title.

Once you have the refrain, the rest of the song practically writes itself. ;-)


Harlan county voted 85% for Trump. Kentucky has sent McConnell to the Senate in every election since 1984. I'm not claiming Democrats are perfect, but Clinton at least had a plan to help miners based on the reality that coal jobs aren't coming back:


> Unfortunately, federal bankruptcy law puts workers far down the list of who gets paid, after business creditors and legal fees for the bankruptcy itself.

Warren has a plan to address that:


>Both men said they are owed nearly $4,000 in their last two paychecks.

Wow! Either they're getting paid once a month or they make a LOT of money.

>Their second-to-last paycheck, already deposited, evaporated out of their bank accounts.

Uh, no. The checks were deposited and did NOT clear as they bounced. Because they were bankrupt. Omitting relevant facts to push a narrative is bad journalism at best. It makes it sound like the company removed funds from their accounts, instead they wrote bad checks.

>and their paychecks from the end of June bounced, leaving many with negative bank account balances.


$4k/month is only $48k, bi-monthly it is $96k, which isn’t unheard of for people working in natural resource extraction.

Ok? That's still surprising to me not knowing a single human being that's worked in a mine and constantly hearing about how poor mining towns are...

48k$ is a LOT of money to those outside of the Bay Area.

I grew up in WY, on a sheep and cattle ranch (where we were poor, but had all the animal flesh to eat that we might desire), and the invading upstream O&G folks and the coal-miners at Thunder Basin mines and living in Campbell county all seemed to make more than $50K/year in 1985.

Last I heard, even "soft jobs" like trainer, in the Eagle Ford and Permian were making at least that much. And in North Dakota - these were on the order of $72K per annum (recognizing that the weird shift schedule doesn't come out to 165 hours/month), - https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&channel=c...

And that's E1/E2, which you can get without a GED and graduate out of in less than 6 months in the field.

I do NOT know what a diesel tech makes in Indiana, but the hydrocarbon extraction folks in the Rockies seem to do more than 'ok' for not having any sort of degree (which doesn't mean that they are not intelligent)

48k is less than the median income in the US [1]. Miners also make generally around 100k, which is why they want to keep those jobs so hard. It’s rare to find high paying jobs in low cost areas that don’t require much education.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United...

>48k is less than the median income in the US

Yet nearly half of workers in the United States earn less than $30,000[1] (people earning less than $30,000 accounts for 48.06% of the population[2]) and 1% of the country makes more than 250k a year[2]. Four states have a median HOUSEHOLD income under 48k[3].

The vast majority of people on HN seem to think that everyone is drawing a 6 figure software dev salary, federal minimum wage is 7.25 an hour. 13 years into my job and I'm one of the best paid people in my position and I'm around 36k now I think, new hires make considerably less than that at a fortune 500 company with 425k employees.

[1] https://howmuch.net/articles/how-much-americans-make-in-wage...

[2] https://wallethacks.com/average-median-income-in-america/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territ...

That might be true, but you aren’t working a drill site in North Dakota or a mine in West Virginia. Natural resource jobs have always been like that.

Active mining towns are not poor, it's after the mine is all played out where it gets interesting

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