Judge orders Justice companies to pay health care premiums to retired miners dating to 2017

A federal judge ordered companies owned by Gov. Jim Justice and his family to pay $154,484 in a court case over required beneficiary payments for retired mine workers dating back seven years.

U.S. District Judge Frank Volk had already entered a summary judgment in favor of the retired miners suing the Justice coal companies. The latest order specified how much the companies must pay.

The case is over health care premium payments from July 15, 2017, through May 15, 2023.

Volk’s order says the Justice companies must pay $109,722 for that.

They also have to pay $15,050 in interest plus liquidated damages equal to 20 percent of the principal amount owed, $20,944. Finally, the Justice companies owe $7,757 in attorneys fees.

Trustees of the United Mine Workers benefit plan filed the action on behalf of a retiree and his spouse against Bluefield Coal Corp., Bluestone Industries Inc. and Keystone Service Industries.

The Justice coal companies were supposed to have been paying into a health care plan established in 1992 under federal law.

The retired worker, Kenny Dowell, was entitled to lifetime health benefits through Bluestone Coal, his last place of coal employment. In 2017, Bluestone Coal stopped making payments on behalf of the Dowels to the health benefit plan.

The Dowells’ situation essentially serves as an example to go after the Justice companies’ nonpayment of the required benefits.

Governor Justice, a two-term Republican governor, has dozens of business holdings listed on his annual state ethics disclosures. The governor has not placed most of his family’s holdings in a blind trust but has repeatedly said the responsibility of running the businesses has been passed on to Jay and adult daughter Jill Justice.

Justice, who is now in a high-profile U.S. Senate campaign, also faces a broad range of financial pressures on the family businesses. The financial conflicts receive attention from reporters as well as rival campaigns.

This past week, Justice made public statements urging less public attention of his companies’ financial conflicts, with the governor describing a track record of eventually making good on debts.

“It’s easy to catch a lot of arrows because you’re a public official,” Justice said in those remarks. “Absolutely, our companies and our family will always meet our obligations and do what’s right.”

The dispute over retired mine workers health benefits has drawn criticism both from rival Republicans and from Democrats.

The hardcore Club for Growth, which has been supporting Congressman Alex Mooney in the Republican Primary for U.S. Senate, produced an advertisement focused on the dispute over the miner healthcare benefits.

The narrator in the advertisement says, “They did backbreaking work mining coal for Jim Justice. How did Justice repay them? That’s the thing. He didn’t.”

The West Virginia Democratic Party put out a statement today, calling for immediate action by the Justice companies to pay the premiums.

“The failure of Governor Jim Justice’s coal companies to fulfill their obligations under the union retiree benefit plan is deeply concerning,” stated Democratic Party Chairman Mike Pushkin, who is also a state delegate.

“These unpaid premiums not only jeopardize the health care coverage of hardworking union miners and their families but also violate federal law. The miners who put their lives on the line every day so that Jim Justice can live in the lap of luxury deserve better.”

Pushkin concluded, “If he can’t afford to pay the health care benefits he owes his workers then he can’t afford to run for the US Senate.”

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