Coal mines announce layoffs

The Powder River Basin’s coal workforce shrunk by about 6% Thursday with the layoff of 300 workers from three mines.

Peabody Energy Corp. employees were informed Thursday that 170 coal workers have been laid off from the North Antelope Rochelle mine near Wright in Campbell County.

Navajo Transitional Energy Co. also announced 130 layoffs, 73 from its Spring Creek Mine in southern Montana and 57 employees at the Antelope Mine in southern Campbell County.

The layoffs represent about 6% of the 4,834 people employed by Powder River Basin coal mines at the end of 2019, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Workers at NARM were read a statement from the company that set the number of layoffs at 170, according to the Douglas Budget newspaper, which talked with an employee who was in the meeting with company supervisors. The Douglas Budget is a sister publication of the News Record.

North Antelope Rochelle is the world’s largest coal mine that produced 85.3 million tons of thermal coal in 2019, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. That’s nearly 33% less coal than the 118 million tons NARM mined in 2014.

The move comes about six weeks after Peabody reduced its workforce by 50 temporary workers and three regular employees were laid off earlier this month.

Without those workers, NARM employed 1,189 people. making the 170-worker layoff Thursday a reduction of more than 14% of the mine’s workforce.

NTEC, which bought the Antelope, Cordero Rojo and Spring Creek mines from a bankrupt Cloud Peak Energy in October, said a weak market for thermal coal has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that has reduced coal demand further.

“We regret the hardship that this decision creates for families and our communities,” said NTEC CEO Clark Mosely in a press release. “We are confident in our projections for future sales, and all mines will continue operations to fulfill orders as we look to better days ahead.”

The layoffs also come as the company continues to negotiate with the federal government over royalty payments left over from the Cloud Peak, which means NTEC is operating on Cloud Peak’s mining permit.

The 130 layoffs at Spring Creek and Antelope represent more than 15.5% of NTEC’s 831 employees at the two mines.

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