Measures to help Wyoming coal workers recover pay move ahead

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming legislative committee has endorsed two measures to help workers recover wages from a bankrupt West Virginia coal company but not one that would allow the state to sue on their behalf.

Many furloughed employees of Blackjewel in Wyoming didn’t seek unpaid wages when the West Virginia-based company filed for bankruptcy in 2019. The workers worried they wouldn’t be offered their jobs back at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines and other company facilities in Wyoming if they filed claims.

Blackjewel owed 506 workers in Wyoming hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and benefits but only a few dozen workers ultimately filed claims for compensation.

One proposal endorsed by a select legislative committee on coal bankruptcies Thursday would protect workers who file wage claims from employer retaliation.

“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for any employer to discharge, harass, discipline or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because the employee filed a claim for unpaid wages,” the draft bill reads.

Many of the workers got their jobs back after another company, Eagle Specialty Materials, bought the mines and resumed operations a few months after the Blackjewel bankruptcy.

Yet attorneys for Wyoming struggled to collect Blackjewel records necessary to fight on behalf of workers. Another bill the select committee endorsed would allow the state Labor Standards Office to investigate a bankrupt company’s wage or hour records.

The committee declined, however, to support legislation that would allow the office to sue on behalf of employees with wage claims.

Hundreds of Blackjewel workers in Kentucky collected unpaid wages because that state’s Department of Labor sued on behalf of employees. In Wyoming, only county attorneys may represent workers who have filed unpaid wage claims.

A four-week legislative session dedicated primarily to the state budget begins Feb. 10 in Cheyenne.

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Kassie Simmons
Kassie Simmons joined the team in January 2019 as a weekend journalist. She graduated from Virginia Tech in just two and a half years with a BA in multimedia journalism. During her short time at Virginia Tech, she served as the editor for the university’s chapter of The Tab. Kassie was named the top reporter for The Tab at Virginia Tech on multiple occasions and made the list for the top 30 reporters for The Tab in the U.S. She also studied theater performance and minored in creative writing. Before coming to WOAY, Kassie interned at WSLS in Roanoke and the Tidewater Review in her hometown of West Point, Va. She has loved following breaking news since her childhood and has a passion for delivering the stories people care most about. Kassie is excited to be working in Southern West Virginia and looks forward to all the adventures ahead of her. You can follow her on Twitter at @KassieLSimmons and like her page on Facebook. If you have a story you think she should check out, send her an email at