HAZARD — With so many miners losing their jobs in Eastern Kentucky, the ones that have been able to keep their jobs are considered lucky. However, many of those miners are also facing financial hardships as hours are reportedly being drastically cut to avoid layoffs.
Many miners have traditionally made a significant portion of their income by working overtime. But with the current downturn, many mines are having to cut overtime for miners. Haven King, with Coal Mining our Future, said that is bad news for many of the miners who rely on this additional income.
King said that miners were able to work upward of 65 hours a week, bringing in 25 additional hours of overtime. One of the mine companies having to cut back on these hours in Perry County Coal.
“To a deep miner that is an electrician or a miner operator, that means about $36,000 a year,” said King.
While many of these miners are in the higher pay bracket and will still be receiving a decent salary, they will see a large change in lifestyle.
“They have been used to a four wheeler and a boat, and those expenses are still there,” said King.
Bill Bissett of the Kentucky Coal Association also pointed out that they will continue to be taxed as a part of the higher tax bracket.
“They are still paying taxes on that higher rate of pay,” said Bissett.
According to Bissett, the way that the miners and mines found themselves in such a lofty overtime situation was a lack of experienced and qualified miners. As mines needed these experienced workers, they were willing to pay for them to work additional hours.
“You had a real need for miners in November of 2011,” said Bissett. “That was how quickly that price fell.”
As the price of coal has remained low for several months now, companies are having to decide between eliminating positions or slowing production to fewer hours each week.
“I am sure the companies are doing all they can,” said Bissett. “They would much rather eliminate overtime than the job.”
Bissett said that many of these experienced miners are getting offers from mines in other states that need miners with more certifications and more years under their belts.
“I do know that people in other states have reached out to some of the more experienced miners here,” said Bissett.
While these jobs in other states offer these miners an option to continue working, he said that it is likely many of them will turn them down. Most of the miners in Eastern Kentucky have been here for generations and have lives and families established in the area.
For other miners, Bissett said he still believes the market will rebound. He said that lately he has seen a slight pickup in both the natural gas and coal prices, and that is promising.
“You suddenly have this free fall of prices along with natural gas, but gas is now starting to uptick and coal is starting to do a little bit better,” said Bissett.
He said that it is even possible that as the market evens back out, the overtime hours could return for some miners with advanced certifications.
“One reason that it may come back is that even when the market rebounds and demand does surge, the question is are we going to have enough experienced miners?” said Bissett.