Richlands Rapid Response event

Blackjewel employees talk with one of the groups at the Richlands gathering.

RICHLANDS, Va. — Wednesday was the second time Heather Casey’s husband lost his coal mining job — and his paycheck — without warning, and she says one man is to blame.

“We went through this same type thing in 2017 when he was working for Revelation. I don’t know why he went back,” she said.

Casey, a Honaker resident, was waiting while her husband filled out paperwork at the Virginia Employment Commission’s Rapid Response event at the Virginia Workforce Development Office in Richlands. VEC offered several rapid response events throughout the region following social media outcries that Blackjewel LLC employees were not being paid after the company filed for bankruptcy and halted work at several local mines.

Jeff Hoops, the man entangled in the BlackJewel bankruptcy, is also listed as president and founder of Revelation Energy, one of the country’s largest coal producers. Revolution filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection July 1 that Hoops attributes to adverse market conditions and several operational issues that have plagued the company since 2017.

Hoops’ filing seeks to combine bankruptcies involving four companies — Revelation Energy LLC, Revelation Energy Holdings LLC, Revelation Management Corp. and Blackjewel Holdings LLC — into one case under the name Blackjewel LLC.

Chapter 11 protection allows a company to avoid threat of lawsuits from creditors while reorganizing finances.

Meanwhile, officials at the July 17 event said they were swamped when the doors opened at 9 a.m. and by 11 a.m. 50 miners had signed up for assistance. By day’s end, nearly 100 people affected by the bankruptcy had attended the event. All of the employees said they were caught off guard by Blackjewel’s actions.

Andrew Hagy and George Boardwine, both from Tazewell, said they were working six- and seven-day work weeks up until the end of June.

“They told us if we would work three weekends in a row they would give us four straight paid days off for the July 4 holiday,” Hagy said.

June 28 was the last day either man worked at the mine, but neither had any idea why work had been halted.

The reasons the company gave workers when they called to ask about the situation ranged from federal mine law violations to problems with equipment, according to several people at the response fair. Many said they learned about the bankruptcy from reading newspaper articles.

Boardwine, a veteran coal miner, said the bankruptcy did not have to stop work or delay pay for the men.

“I worked for Alpha when they went bankrupt and we never missed a day and we always got paid,” he said. “They held meetings and told us what was going on and we continued to work hard for them.”

Hagy and Boardwine said they were owed eight days wages in addition to the time they were given bad checks for.

Boardwine said he and some of the other employees stood to lose pay for several vacation days accumulated as well.

Both men said they don’t expect to go back to work at Blackjewel and came to the resource event from Welch, West Virginia, and hoped to have time to go “check on jobs” when they left.

Representatives from VEC, Medicaid and SNAP as well as career counselors, training program representatives, community assistance groups and others, were on-hand to provide aid and offer advice to the miners.

Natalie Chapman, special assistant for rural workforce development from Gov. Ralph Northam’s office, was also present. Chapman was handing out gas cards to help the miners pay for travel to the event and the July 19 job fair in Richlands.

Chapman said despite the circumstances the miners and their families were upbeat.

“We actually had people turn them down saying somebody else might need it more,” she said of the cards.

She added that various agencies were making every effort to get companies at the job fair that were seeking employees with skills the miners have.

Shane Clem, from U.S. Sen. Mark Warner’s office, D-Virginia, was at the program and shared a letter Warner wrote to the bankruptcy court in an effort to get the matter settled and not penalize the miners.

The court approved $5 million in emergency financing for the company but the workers in Richlands said they had no idea what that money was used for and they weren’t getting any responses when they called supervisors about going back to work.

A related job fair Friday drew 14 representatives from companies taking applications for employment and training programs offering the applicants a new skill. Nearly 200 people attended the fair.

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