Blackjewel LLC is scrambling to prevent its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization from becoming a Chapter 7 bankruptcy that wipes out the company.
Only a relative handful of short-term financing has kept that from happening, the company’s attorneys told a West Virginia federal bankruptcy court in a filing Thursday morning.
That filing lays out the details in which Blackjewel will sell its Wyoming surface coal mines to Contura Energy, from which Blackjewel obtained the properties two years ago.
Contura also will purchase a Blackjewel surface operation in West Virginia.
Contura will put down a $20.6 million cash deposit on the properties, providing Blackjewel with more short-term operating cash.
However, the future of Blackjewel’s idled mines in Virginia and eastern Kentucky remains unclear. In its Thursday morning filing, the company notes that its advisors have contacted more than 27 parties to solicit interest in buying Blackjewel’s assets. Of those, 10 entities “have signed non-disclosure agreements and are actively engaged in conducting due diligence.”
Roughly 480 Blackjewel employees in Virginia were sent home early this month when the company filed for bankruptcy in a West Virginia federal court. However, they were not laid off.
The company has several operations near Appalachia, Keokee and St. Charles, along with mines in Tazewell, Russell and Buchanan counties. Blackjewel also has significant operations in eastern Kentucky.
In a July 24 press release, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring stated that experts in his office have been designated to help displaced Blackjewel workers in Virginia to mediate disputes related to their finances, such as check overdraft fees, child care payments and more.
Also, Herring announced that his office has a dedicated email address that Blackjewel employees can use to inquire about any matters where the attorney general’s office can help. It is email@example.com.
Meanwhile, Blackjewel filed an update Monday in which it answered several questions about employee benefits:
• The funds in their health savings accounts are secure.
• The funds in their 401(k) retirement accounts are secure. However, “certain amounts due prior to the filing were not paid as of the time Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 protection. We are currently reviewing this situation with the hope of bringing the 401(k) payments up to date as of the filing.”
Also, Thursday’s court motion asks the court to eliminate Blackjewel’s 401(k) program. The company would stop paying employees’ contributions into their retirement accounts, but employees would not lose funds already paid in.
• Employees who have not been called back to work cannot take funds from their 401(k) accounts. “Blackjewel’s employees have not been terminated,” the update explained, and they cannot make withdrawals “until the employee quits or is terminated.”
• Whether an employee qualifies for unemployment benefits “is determined by the state agency administering these benefits, but in most states, a prolonged layoff will entitle employees to unemployment benefits after a certain waiting period,” it states.
The Virginia Employment Commission has held events to sign Blackjewel workers up for benefits and connect with job opportunities.
Blackjewel employees can file for unemployment benefits and access additional support online at www.vec.virginia.gov, by calling the customer contact center at 866/832-2363 or by visiting a Career Works Center.
The center serving Norton and the counties of Wise, Lee, Scott and Dickenson is the VEC office at 1725 Park Ave. SW, Norton. The phone number is 276/679-9413.