Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders continues to build and bolster a progressive populist movement across the United States. In recent days, it’s emerged that his campaign sent a dozen and a half pizzas to a group of currently unemployed coal miners who are protesting in Kentucky in an effort to compel their former employer — the now bankrupt Blackjewel — to cough up the millions in wages that it owes them. Although the miners are still awaiting at least $4,000+ each, Vice notes that the company “did pay back $52.8 million in loans to the company’s CEO before declaring bankruptcy.”
As that early July bankruptcy unfolded, Blackjewel notified its more than 1,000 employees at four mines in Appalachia that the facilities would be immediately closing, despite a contractually obligated 60-day warning of closures. They were never paid for their final week of work, and when the miners tried to cash the final checks that they did receive, they bounced. To counter the company leaving them out in the cold — literally, pretty much — the miners have at this point established an encampment in front of a large shipment of more than $1 million worth of coal that Blackjewel was attempting to transport. They want to establish that the proceeds from the coal — or some other money from somewhere — will be used to pay them, not continue to line the pockets of rich executives.
The miners have already been in place for about three weeks at this point. Their demonstration began with “five men standing on railroad tracks” on July 29, in Vice’s description, and in the time since, other public figures besides Sanders have offered their support. Republican Governor Matt Bevin and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Amy McGrath have both stopped by, and President Donald Trump himself actually “froze the shipment of coal” earlier this month — but the miners are still waiting for their money.
Protest leader and miner Chris Lewis shared:
‘We done our protest peacefully, but in Harlan, Kentucky, we stand up for what we believe is right. That’s been embedded in us from childhood up. You know, coal miners is brotherhoods. And we got a whole lot hanging in the balance here that we won’t back down.’
Their case remains open-ended at this point, as various interests struggle over the financial remains of Blackjewel.
Sanders has built a national campaign platform on sticking up for issues like workers rights, just recently arguing in person to Walmart executives that wages — which he described as currently at “starvation” levels within the company — should be raised and workers should be given a voice on the company’s board of directors. Other initiatives he’s pushed, like a unified, widely accessible universal health care system have similar grassroots level ramifications.
Sanders is currently among the leading candidates in the Democratic presidential primary following a strong but ultimately unsuccessful showing in the 2016 race. RealClearPolitics’s average of polls has him with about 16 percent of the support in the race at present. He’s one of only three candidates — the others being former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren — with double digit levels of support.
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