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Murray Energy Warns of Potential Layoffs at Ohio Valley Mines

WHEELING–Murray Energy Corp. indicated Friday it may cut 4,400 more jobs by September — a move that would leave the company that employed 8,400 in May of 2015 with fewer than 1,000 workers.

Murray spokesman Gary Broadbent said Friday, however, that no decision on job cuts is imminent. However, the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires companies to provide employees 60 days’ notice of mass layoffs or plant closures.

“This is a precautionary measure to comply with this legal requirement,” Broadbent said of the WARN notices issued Friday. “But no layoffs are contemplated or expected at this time.”

The WARN notices came just three days after United Mine Workers of America members at five Murray mines in West Virginia rejected a new contract that would have lasted through 2021.

During his Tuesday fundraiser in Wheeling for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Murray Energy Chairman, President and CEO Robert E. Murray said the firm’s employment numbered 5,356. The company operates mines in Utah, Kentucky, Illinois and Pennsylvania, in addition to its West Virginia and Ohio mines.

Company officials said only that the 4,400 layoffs would come from operations in all six states, and did not specify anticipated cuts at specific mines.

“These workforce reductions are due to the ongoing destruction of the U.S. coal industry by President Barack Obama and his supporters, and the increased utilization of natural gas to generate electricity,” Murray spokesman Gary Broadbent said in a prepared statement Friday.

In the Upper Ohio Valley, Murray runs the non-union Century Mine near Beallsville, as well as the Powhatan No. 6 Mine near Alledonia, the Marshall County Mine and the Ohio County Mine, with the latter three featuring UMWA representation. The company already plans to shut down the Powhatan mine in November, impacting about 430 miners.

During the Trump fundraiser Tuesday, Murray told attendees that coal demand is eroding at an alarming rate.

“Barack Obama and his appointed bureaucrats and political supporters have closed 411 coal-fired electric power plants and destroyed half of the coal markets, prices and our jobs and family livelihoods,” Murray said.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Murray was the nation’s fifth-largest coal producer in 2014 by grinding out 62.8 million tons. Peabody Energy led the U.S. in 2014 with 189.5 million tons, while Arch Coal finished second with 135.8 million tons.

Cloud Peak Energy, with operations almost exclusively in Wyoming, finished third in the nation with 85.8 million tons, while Alpha Natural Resources came in fourth with 80.2 million tons.

Of these five companies, three — Peabody, Arch and Alpha — are in bankruptcy.

“Frankly, I am frightened for you, my employees and the survival of your jobs and family livelihoods,” Murray said during the Trump fundraiser. “You are being denied the right to work with honor and dignity. This is not the America that I cherish.”

The statement from Broadbent adds that Murray expects to continue operating, with plans to keep as many employees in place as possible to meet obligations to customers.

“Murray Energy will continue to sell and ship coal, as we have to date, after any such workforce reduction. Service to Murray Energy’s customers will not be interrupted,” Broadbent said.

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