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Westridge Mine lays off 102 workers

Sun Advocate reporter
Sun Advocate associate editor

But how many for how long? A longwall move is reportedly under way

One day after the re-election of President Barack Obama, Murray Energy Corp. chairman and CEO Robert Murray shared a prayer with his staff, lamenting that "The takers have outvoted the producers."

He then increased the population of Americans eligible for unemployment benefits by 102, laying off that many workers at the Westridge Mine in Carbon County.

The prayer and Murray's view of

America's future can be read at

"Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build. We ask for your guidance in this drastic time with the drastic decisions that will be made to have any hope of our survival as an American business enterprise," the prayer concludes.

The layoff does not affect all miners at Westridge, however. Several miners have told the Sun Advocate that a sizeable crew remains at work, relocating longwall mining machinery to a new section.

This typically takes several weeks. On previous moves, the mine has also laid off miners not involved in the relocating activity.

Several of those layoffs also occurred before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.

Two former employees in Murray's mines spoke to the Sun Advocate on condition of anonymity. According to one, who was at the Andalex mine when Murray took it over, the new owner's political orientation was clear.

Murray introduced himself to his new employees at an awareness meeting. "After a brief discussion concerning pay and schedule, the politics started," the miner recalled. "Murray himself told us that he knew this was a Democratic county and any coal miner who would vote Democrat was just plain stupid."

The new boss allegedly also warned that the mine would shut down at the first mention of union organization. That recollection stirred an emotional response from the two miners. They reported that generations of their family going back had worked for union mines and had strong union beliefs.

"That has been lost," one of the miners stated. "Most miners today have no sense concerning the history of this county and the coal miners that have come before us. All they care about is that paycheck. When it comes to their dignity or benefits or anything else, it's all a far second to that paycheck."

As a consequence, according to the two miners, workers have lost benefits and rights that had been earned by their fathers.

"Now you have employers telling you how you can vote, when you can vote. One weekend a month off with your family, between the schedule and the politics it pretty bad," he explained.

However, more than politics and policy are involved in the energy industry.

"Carbon County is having it a little rough right now, but I have to say things are going well at various coal mines all over the country," explained Rick Stevenson, a recruiter for Tri-State West. "You know they can say all they want about politics but it is technology that has cost miners jobs pure and simple."

According to Stevenson, the efficiency of longwall mining techniques coupled with more and more automation continues to eliminate and change positions within all mines. While this is difficult for miners underground, it has spawned a support industry which is now racing to provide state-of-the-art equipment. It is a case of more equipment ran by fewer men.

While technology is changing the landscape, Stevenson commented that there are other challenges which face Castle Country coal miners.

"I posted on facebook recently that you can take the boy out of Carbon County but you can't take Carbon County out of the boy," quipped Stevenson. "There are operations who are shy to hire guys from Price because they know as soon as they get the chance to go home, they're gone."

However, according to both miners it is simple economics not politics which are behind the layoffs.

"Westridge right now has three miner sections which are not producing coal. They are under construction. There is also a longwall move going on. Traditionally, he has had these layoffs either during the longwall move or right around the holidays," one miner explained. "He waited till two days after the election to do this to blame Obama for something this company has done a regular basis."

"I think its a number of factors. The big wigs are trying to blame this whole situation with coal on Obama. There are checks and balances within the government. Listen, Obama's policies via the EPA do have an effect, there is more to it. The cheapness of natural gas, the regulations on coal fired power plants and warmer winter. Every coal miner I talk to has said that they are experiencing warmer winters. That isn't good for coal production and that has little to do with the president."

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