GILLETTE — When he got the call Thursday, Aaron McAllister was hopeful he’d be going back to work nearly three months after being furloughed from the Antelope coal mine.
Instead, he got his severance package with the news that furloughs for himself and 79 other coal mine workers are now permanent layoffs.
“I had hopes we were actually going to go back to work today,” McAllister said Friday. “We were hopeful, because there’s nothing to lose, so you might as well be (optimistic).”
He and his girlfriend both worked at the mine located south of Wright in Campbell County and were both among 93 hourly Antelope employees who were furloughed May 21, along with the layoff of eight salaried employees.
Friday morning, the previously furloughed Antelope mine coal workers were officially laid off.
In the months since they were furloughed, mine owner Navajo Transitional Energy Co. reports that some of those workers have retired or moved on to other jobs, which puts the total layoffs at 80.
Although the company wanted to find a way to bring the furloughed workers back, the company doesn’t anticipate business picking up anytime soon, according to an NTEC statement about the layoffs.
“As we continue to evaluate markets amidst the coronavirus and economic recovery, we do not anticipate an increase in orders from our Antelope mine through the end of the year,” the statement says. “Based on this information, we have moved the previous furloughed employees to a laid-off status.”
The company also acknowledged it’s a blow for the workers who had held out hope to eventually return to their jobs.
“While we regret the hardship this causes, we want to be transparent with our employees and give them every opportunity to more forward and do what is best for them and their families,” according to the statement.
The layoffs also don’t preclude the potential for rehiring people if business picks up, NTEC said. “We will monitor conditions and rehire as the opportunity arises.”
The layoffs bring the overall loss of Wyoming Powder River Basin coal jobs this year to nearly 570, a drop of more than 12% from the 4,578 full-time employees the mines reported at the end of 2019, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Conversely, coal production in the basin is on pace to produce 24% less coal this year. At the Antelope mine, its 9.8 million tons produced in the first quarter of 2020 puts it on pace to ship about 16% less coal than the 23.3 million tons it did in 2019.
McAllister had been at the Antelope mine since 2010 and his girlfriend for nearly a year. While disappointed with the move, he said the company gave everyone a personalized severance package and was a great place to work.
“I understand financially why they’re doing what they have to do,” he said.
McAllister also said he has no hard feelings or ill will toward NTEC or Cloud Peak Energy, the mine’s former owner. NTEC bought Cloud Peak Energy’s Powder River Basin assets in a bankruptcy sale last year.
“Cloud Peak Energy had been a blessing for me my whole life,” he said. “They offered opportunities for me I never would’ve had. I liked working for NTEC, too. If things were different, they would’ve been there for all their employees.
“It has been an amazing outfit to work for.”