I recently visited coal country and spoke with retired and laid off miners in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky about the current issues they face and an uncertain future as the coal industry continues to decline. The article can be read here in the Guardian, but I wanted to share with you some additional interviews and content from the story
For twenty years, Wilburn Jude worked as a coal miner in Williamson, West Virginia, a small town that has depended on coal for decades. After being laid off in 2013, he now works for Refresh Appalachia, a non-profit that works to retrain laid off coal miners and convert former mine property into sustainable agricultural and forestry operations.
“Everybody has coal fever, because it’s all we had, it’s what we did. It’s just like in Detroit when they started shutting down the automobile factories,” Jude told the Guardian. He recently obtained his Associate’s Degree in Applied Sciences earlier this year and intends to continue working for the non-profit to help develop alternative economic resources to coal.
“When that’s what you train a generation to do and the next generation that’s all they saw done, the next generation is expecting to work in the coal mines and now theres no coal mines,” Jude added. “They need to see there are alternatives.”
In West Virginia, retired miners are trying to push a state bill that would automatically pay out black lung benefits to coal miners who have been diagnosed with black lung and have ten years of experience or more working in mines.
“I have black lung, but I’m not totally disabled from it. So they’re not going to give you shit,” said Terry Steele, a retired miner in Matewan, West Virginia. “We introduced it two years in a row, it can’t even get on the floor. They said they didn’t have money for it. This year, they cut the coal severance tax from 5 percent to 3 percent, costing the state $60 million, which would’ve provided for a black lung fund-coal company operators and stockholders. That’s what we deal with in this state.”
Another retired miner in Matewan, West Virginia explained how Senate Majority Leader responded to him a couple years ago during a meeting on providing funding for miners’ pensions;
“We had a meeting with Mcconnell two years ago. I told him senator, in 1946, when John Lewis was getting ready to call a nationwide strike, they had a meeting and said miners would receive lifetime benefits. Truman made the promise. We’re not looking for a hand out or charity. McConnell said Truman has been dead a longtime.”