After weeks of little information from a West Virginia court, Blackjewel could soon be welcoming back its western employees. Workers received a letter with the company's letterhead yesterday, September 9, with the subject, "Possible Recall of Furloughed Blackjewel Workers of Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte Facilities."
"The company is currently considering restarting production efforts at the facilities and, as a result, maybe in the position to recall furloughed workers. The company does not know specifically when it would restart production," the letter reads.
The signee Blackjewel LLC said operations could restart in the next several days or during the coming weeks. It reads the company would prefer to recall furloughed workers than hire new ones.
"We are writing to you as a currently furloughed worker to learn whether or not you are available and willing to return to work," it reads. "If we don't hear from you on or before September 19, 2019 that you are available… the company will assume that you have voluntarily departed from the company."
Former warehouse employee at Blackjewel Melissa Worden said, "this is out of nowhere and it doesn't make any sense. I'm speechless, and that is amazing."
On August 6th, Judge Frank Volk approved Contura Energy as the buyer of Blackjewel's two Wyoming mines. It's since been stuck in negotiations over debt with the federal government. On August 14, Contura's CFO Andy Eidson said in an earnings call the company had its eyes focused on its eastern operations. Plus, he said it's not a given that certain issues would be resolved to close the deal.
"This transaction is wholly dependent on an agreement being reached with the federal government to rescind its objection to the sale," Eidson said, adding a conversion to a Chapter 7 reorganization is still a possibility.
Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance at Sightline Institute, said the letter isn't an assurance that the mines would re-open.
"I don't think you send this sort of letter without some sort of idea you bring [workers] back. It's not a guarantee," he said. "They're testing the waters in a way that creates a PR problem if they don't hire anybody."
He added the letter doesn't clarify what capacity employees would return to the mines.
"It could be, at this point, that they are trying to figure out who they can hire to do the reclamation work. There's no guarantee of full employment here at all," Williams-Derry said.
Nothing within the court documents hint that negotiations with the federal government have been resolved and that the mines would reopen imminently.
Blackjewel has sent out a letter to see if furloughed workers are interested in returning to work.
Company is currently considering restarting production efforts at the facilities and, as a result, may be in the position to recall furloughed workers. The company does not know specifically when it would restart production.