New Owner of Wyoming Coal Mines Moves to Reinstate Workers
GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) — The new owner of two Wyoming coal mines has offered to reinstate dozens of furloughed workers, but mine mechanic Christopher Orchard says he doesn't plan to return to his old job.
Orchard was among more than 500 workers furloughed when Milton, West Virginia-based Blackjewel filed for bankruptcy on July 1. It also failed to provide final paychecks.
Another Powder River Basin coal company, Cloud Peak Energy, hired Orchard within two weeks.
Other Blackjewel employees also found new jobs amid the ongoing upheaval of Wyoming's coal industry, which for the past decade has been struggling with declining demand for coal to fuel power plants.
Utility companies increasingly are turning to cheaper natural gas and increasingly affordable renewable energy to generate electricity.
Blackjewel was the latest of a helf-dozen mining companies in the Powder River Basin to seek bankruptcy protection since 2015. On Friday, a subsidiary of Jasper, Alabama-based FM Coal closed on a deal to buy Blackjewel's Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines.
Managers offered Orchard, who worked at Belle Ayr, a 4% raise to return to his old job, but he says the pay is still better at Cloud Peak Energy, Orchard told the Gillette News-Record.
FM Coal subsidiary Eagle Specialty Materials has promised to pay up to $1.8 million in wages and other benefits owed from before the bankruptcy.
Campbell County Commission Chairman Rusty Bell said he checked with the Wyoming Department of Labor about money owed Blackjewel workers and believes it will get paid.
Orchard, however, said he was still waiting for a check.
"It would be nice to get what I worked for," Orchard said. "I even worked some overtime on that last check that I didn't get."
Neither FM Coal nor Eagle Specialty Materials has a website or listed phone number and couldn't be reached for comment. A message left at the Eagle Butte mine Wednesday wasn't immediately returned.
Lack of information about Eagle Specialty Materials and FM Coal concerns the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming land-use watchdog group.
"We'll see if they can deliver," said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the group. "But we have no idea about these guys. They don't even have a business address, but we'll see how this works."