Measures to Help Wyoming Coal Workers Recover Pay Move Ahead

One proposal would protect workers who file wage claims from employer retaliation

By Associated Press

CASPER, Wyo. — A Wyoming legislative committee has endorsed two measures to help workers recover wages from bankrupt coal companies 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, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

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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