Official: Kentucky Cabinet fails to secure coal worker bonds

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The state's Labor Cabinet hasn't secured the necessary bonds from coal companies that would cover wage payments to miners if their employer unexpectedly shuts down, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said.

Beshear, a Democrat running for governor, announced on Thursday that his office examined records of Kentucky companies that should be required to pay the bonds. State law requires construction and mineral companies in business for less than five years to pay performance bonds that would cover four weeks of employee pay. Beshear says 1,000 miners are working for coal companies that haven't paid the bond.

Some Kentucky miners were left with bounced paychecks after one coal company, Milton, West Virginia-based Blackjewel, filed for bankruptcy on July 1. Some of those miners are protesting the lack of payments by blocking a coal shipment sitting on railroad tracks in Harlan County.

A Labor Cabinet spokeswoman said the "full force" of the Cabinet has been directed toward recovering wages for the Blackjewel miners.

"It's curious that the Attorney General is just now weighing in with his after-the-fact advice," Mary Elizabeth Robertson said in a statement. Robertson said the attorney general's office should have worked on adding reporting requirements to the state law to give the Cabinet "the tools it needed to identify non-compliance and enforce the requirement."

Beshear said he is concerned that the Labor Cabinet acted intentionally to ignore the law. He pointed out that Labor Cabinet officials were in support of a bill before the General Assembly last year that would have done away with the bond requirement.

"And that intentional decision to ignore the law has created the situation these Blackjewel miners are in, and that others could fall into," he said.

A report released Thursday by the attorney general's office said at least 30 mining companies may not have paid the bond, as required by the law passed in 2010. The law says "any employee whose wages are secured by a bond may obtain payment of those wages, liquidated damages, and attorney's fees."

Gov. Matt Bevin announced in July that the Labor Cabinet would investigate the lost wages of the Blackjewel miners. The Cabinet said the company sent bounced checks to its workers.