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West Virginia Miners File Class Action Lawsuit Against Governor Over Bounced Checks

West Virginia miners filed a federal class action lawsuit against their Republican Governor Jim Justice and his family, alleging that the Justice-owned Bluestone Industries, Inc. paid miners in bounced checks, WVVA reported over the weekend. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia and names the governor’s children, Jay and Jill Justice who are the directors of Bluestone, as well as the company’s secretary and treasurer, James Miller.

According to the lawsuit, Bluestone Industries, Inc. violated the West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Hundreds, if not thousands, of West Virginia miners were affected by the bounced paychecks, which allegedly occurred on multiple occasions.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of miner Kenneth Cozart on March 6 and later amended on April 11, alleged that a paycheck the plaintiff received on Feb. 23 could not be deposited, according to WV Metro News. “The paycheck bounced, causing bad check fees to be charged against the plaintiff’s account,” the lawsuit argues. Plaintiffs were later paid via wire transfer, but were then charged a wire transfer fee for the payment.

“On several prior occasions, the plaintiff was given paychecks for wages earned and deposited said checks in his account and those checks bounced, costing the plaintiff returned check fees. Bluestone would again wire the plaintiff his pay in the same manner as set forth above, again incurring wire transfer fees,” the suit argues.

John Hussell, an attorney who represents Bluestone said the company has already taken the steps to fix the payment problems. “When we became aware of the issue, we immediately took action to ensure that all of the employees received their full pay,” Hussell said. “There was no interruption of their benefits and all of the employees were paid promptly after we became aware of this issue. We are happy to have these miners working with us and are committed to ensuring that they are paid for their hard work.”

Gov. Justice became president of Bluestone in 1993, but sold the company in 2009 to Russian mining company Mechel, OAO for $568 million. Justice re-bought the mines in 2015 and the business was passed on to his children in 2017 once he became governor, though employment took a plunge. Rather than closing the mines, Justice used a regulatory “temporary cessation” loophole for years to keep the idle mines open, at the expense of the environment and community health, according to a Climate Home News investigation.

Miners in West Virginia have been affected by the Black Lung Disease, an epidemic that has had serious health impacts on the Appalachian states of Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, NPR reported. The federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund will see severe cuts in the coming years.