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Kentucky Coal Miners Striking To Demand Missing Wages End Their Protest


In Eastern Kentucky, coal miners blocked a railroad track today in protest. The miners work for Quest Energy, and they said they hadn't received pay since December 27. The protest follows the example of a different group of Kentucky miners. Those miners staged a similar blockade for months last summer and eventually won back pay. Dalton Russell is one of the miners who protested today.


DALTON RUSSELL: You got to stand up for yourself and for the rest of the guys. We got to get our money somehow, you know? And it worked for them, so why not give it a shot and see if we can't get our money somehow.

CORNISH: Sydney Boles, a reporter for the Ohio Valley ReSource, joins us from Kentucky, where she's been covering that protest. And, Sydney, I know you've reported that the protest has wrapped up. Did these miners get what they wanted?

SYDNEY BOLES: They did. They did. We got word late this afternoon that the miners had received back pay in their bank accounts. The miners are saying that they were concerned that if they hadn't blocked the train, they wouldn't have received that money. But in kind of a complicated twist, they're also saying that they're concerned that taking this stand will make it harder for them to find work in the future.

CORNISH: Right, because this has been a very high-profile protest, right? And they feel like they got paid because of it.

BOLES: Absolutely. Miners that I spoke to were fairly certain that they wouldn't have received this pay if they hadn't blocked this train.

CORNISH: How about the company, Quest Energy? What comment have they had on the situation?

BOLES: So I received two statements from Quest Energy yesterday. In the first statement, they were very conciliatory. They said they understood the miners' frustration, and they were doing everything they could to make sure the miners got paid. But, Audie, interestingly, in response to some follow-up questions that I sent them, Quest Energy's parent company, American Resources Corporation, sent me an additional statement that had a very different tone. They were, essentially, blaming the miners for not receiving pay, saying that by blocking this train, they were making it harder for them to receive that pay.

CORNISH: So those were the comments from Quest Energy before. Since the blockade has ended, have you heard from them?

BOLES: I have not heard from them since then.

CORNISH: I want to talk about the blockade itself because it's the second in half a year. What's going on with this industry and its workers?

BOLES: Right. So coal mining in Appalachia - production has been on the decline since the 1990s, but this is a really prolonged and extraordinary slump. In order to combat the declining share of coal in our nation's energy portfolio, a lot of coal companies have been turning to metallurgical coal, which is coal that's used to make steel. But recently, we've seen that even that turn has not been enough to bolster this flagging industry. We've recently had some analysis showing that coal mining in Appalachia is expected to decline a further 20% by 2021, and that means that things are not likely to turn around.

CORNISH: That's Sydney Boles, a reporter for the Ohio Valley ReSource, covering the coal miner blockade in Pike County, Ky. That blockade has wrapped up.

Sydney, thanks so much.

BOLES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sydney Boles