W.Va. workers warned 3 weeks before fatal accident that mine could be closed
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Weeks before an underground accident killed two workers, employees at a problem-plagued West Virginia mine were notified that they may lose their jobs because the coal was selling for less than the cost of digging it out.
St. Louis-based Patriot Coal told all 450 workers at its Wells mining complex on April 23 that a large-scale layoff or closure of the mine was possible. Mine operators are required to give 60 days' notice before such actions under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, also known as WARN.
Miners Eric Legg and Gary Hensley died on Monday at Brody Mine No. 1, one of the mines within the Wells complex near Wharton. Legg and Hensley were performing a risky method known as retreat mining, where the roof is intentionally collapsed to retrieve more coal. Retreat mining is considered standard practice in mines where coal reserves are running out.
A friend and former boss of Legg's, Barry Brown, has said that Legg was preparing to start a new job in another mine sometime later this week.
Boone County administrator James Gore, who knows many of the miners at the site, said the county commission received the WARN notice a few weeks ago. That meant by the start of summer, Legg, Hensley and many co-workers could have been out of the Brody mine for good.
“It is a sad situation,” he said.
When the company issued the WARN Act notices, it said the cost of production exceeded the sales of price of coal.
“These actions are an unfortunate but necessary step to align Patriot's production with expected sales,” Patriot Chief Executive Officer Bennett Hatfield said in a statement about the potential layoffs. “Both metallurgical and thermal coal markets continue to be challenging, with pricing at levels well below production costs at many Central Appalachian mines. Despite the savings we achieved in our reorganization, the production costs of these mines exceed today's depressed prices, necessitating these actions.”
The company noted that in 2012, it reduced production at its Wells complex because of weakened demand for the coal, which is sold in the metallurgical market.
In the company's 2013 annual report, it noted that it couldn't estimate the costs associated with contesting a designation by federal officials that the Brody No. 1 mine was a pattern violator for having so many safety problems — a rare label reserved for the industry's worst offenders.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Law enforcement, intelligence agencies want to ‘like’ you on social media
- Tea Party opposition threatens House GOP’s border bill
- House’s vote to sue Obama is historic foray into checks, balances
- State Dept: ‘No American is proud’ of CIA tactics
- IRS calls right-wing Republicans ‘crazies’ in emails
- Witnesses added for Benghazi hearing
- Ground Zero ship dated to 1773
- Flat-out ‘miracle’ spares women on railroad span
- 6 narcotics officers charged with racketeering
- Charges against Fla. mom raise ire
- Ax disengages from truck on I-95, sticks in windshield of car behind it