UPDATE: James River Coal issues furloughs at Perry mines

Amelia Holliday — Staff Reporter

November 6, 2013

HAZARD—On the same day Gov. Steve Beshear touted the Commonwealth’s rank as ninth best economic climate in the country as being “proof that Kentucky’s economy is heading in the right direction,” according to The Lane Report, the Eastern Kentucky coalfields felt the pain of yet another round of job cuts in the region.

The James River Coal Company officially announced in a press release on Thursday that “due to continued weakness in the coal market” the company idled two underground and two surface mines, along with a preparation plant, at the Buckeye complex in Jeff, furloughing approximately 200 employees and contractors. The company said it hopes to reopen the mines in early 2014 depending on market conditions.

James River Coal idled production at three other complexes in September, according to a report in The Floyd County Times, leading to the furlough of approximately 525 full-time employees in Eastern Kentucky. According to the company’s press release, notices for layoffs had begun to be sent out as of Oct. 16 “to a majority of those employees after determining that the date of re-opening these operations was unknown.”

During a public conference call on Thursday morning concerning the company’s third quarter earnings, Chairman, President and CEO Peter Socha commented on the state of all of the company’s operations.

“Could not be happier with mine operations right now,” he said. “Obviously in this type of a market it’s hard to stay focused, but these guys have been able to.”

Socha went on to say that while the situation may seem bad it is not as bad as the company had anticipated.

“Things are better. Things were terrible. I think they’re better now. It doesn’t mean they’re good, they’re just better,” Socha said.

Senior Vice President C. K. Lane also spoke during the conference call, explaining that the company’s net loss of $25.5 million for the third quarter of 2013, as well as the cost and production at the mining complexes, was better than expected. He added that the company is looking forward now to what is to come in the next quarter.

“Our biggest focus is on holding costs on the idled operations,” he said.

Perry County Clerk Haven King said he had received multiple phone calls from miners in the area who had been furloughed Wednesday morning from the Buckeye complex. He added that job cuts such as these have a ripple effect and will be felt in other areas besides just coal production.

“They got drivers, they got mechanics on them, they got places where they buy their fuel, tires grease, their antifreeze. They’re got to buy parts, and the list goes on and on,” he said.” It’s tough, and I think we’re going to see more.”

Rep. Fitz Steele also said he had heard about the furloughs as early as Wednesday morning.

“Family members did get laid off, that I was notified about this morning. As far as how many, I don’t know. Being a coal miner myself, we’re family, they’re family, and this is a terrible time of the year—it’s a terrible time anytime—to be laid off,” he said. “My heart goes out to all the families and to the coal company also.”