GILLETTE — More than 100 Antelope coal mine workers lost their jobs Thursday morning when Navajo Transitional Energy Co. furloughed 93 hourly employees and laid off eight salaried staff.
The furloughs and layoffs are necessary because the demand for Powder River Basin coal continues to wane as energy consumption in the United States has fallen by nearly 20% during the COVID-19 pandemic, said NTEC, which owns the Antelope mine near Wright.
“As COVID-19 continues to ravage the U.S. economy, domestic demand for coal has declined,” the company said in a press release announcing the moves. “While we have taken steps to preserve as many jobs as possible, including temporary pay reductions, the continued decline has resulted in the need for additional workforce reductions at our Antelope mine near Gillette.”
Thursday’s moves comes nearly a month after the company laid off 130 workers, 73 from its Spring Creek mine in southern Montana and 57 at Antelope.
NTEC said it doesn’t anticipate more layoffs or furloughs at its other PRB mines.
Because power plants are burning less coal, the demand from Antelope mine customers just isn’t there, the company said in its press release.
“Demand for coal from the Antelope mine has been significantly reduced due to continued economic challenges faced by the mine’s customer base,” according to the release. “As conditions improve, we will look to bring back the workforce and continue providing high-quality coal as we support the economic recovery of the region and the U.S.”
Along with 233 coal mine layoffs at Peabody Energy mines and 60 layoffs at Kiewit Corp.’s Buckskin mine, the Powder River Basin has lost 526 jobs so far this year, or about 11% of the PRB’s 4,834 coal workers as of the end of 2019, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
For NTEC, the 228 furloughs and layoffs over the past month represent a 27% reduction in the company’s PRB workforce.
Furloughed employees were not given any severance, but are immediately eligible to apply for unemployment and the extra $600 a week benefit being offered by the federal CARES Act for workers affected by the coronavirus.
Those employees who were laid off were offered a severance package. The company did not elaborate on what was included in the severance.
The company says it hopes to be able to recall the furloughed hourly workers in the future if the market for PRB coal and energy demand recovers.