Southern Indiana coal miners prep for life after layoffs

Photo courtesy WTHI-TV

SULLIVAN, Ind. (WTHI) – A purchase agreement between Vectren Fuels and Sunrise Coal LLC finalized Friday, leaving some Southern Indiana coal miners looking for unemployment offices. The deal, which was announced by Vectren in July, explained that Vectren would sell two underground mines in Knox County, and one in Pike County to Indiana based Sunrise.

According to Vectren, the sale agreement would leave 120 miners without work. Sunrise invited those miners to reapply. However, one miner laid off in the sale, explained to our partners at WTHI-TV Wednesday, the number of miners expecting job cuts was not a reflection of the sale. Kris Walters stood in front of the WorkOne office, a place he visited just a day prior to start his unemployment paperwork.

“I began the arduous task of signing up for unemployment, as well as employment so I can begin my job search,” said Walters.

Walters worked for the Vectren Fuels owned Five Star Prosperity Mine in Petersburg, Ind., as a 15 year veteran of the industry. Five Star Prosperity Mine, according to Walters, would close all together and be backfilled; a process in which the mine subsurface hole is filled.

In the act of full disclosure: Walters said he was invited to reapply for his job, but had worked for Sunrise in the past and did not want to work for the company a second time. Walters explained the projected 120 person job loss was not an accurate number. He kept a tally of men and women he worked with, and the number was 199.

While the numbers may have been mining job specific, Walters explained, contract services as well as office personnel should have been included in the original count.

“We’re talking 199 families, and a base minimum salary of $75,000,” said Walters, “It doesn’t take much to figure out the initial impact is going be in the millions on our community.”

Walters became an informal spokesperson of the job cuts through social media, noting that he’d received thousands of calls and facebook messages regarding the property sale. He explained that his family would feel the impact of loss of income, but had planned and saved for a scenario like a job loss.

“From the occasional weekend out, going to the movie, perhaps going to dinner with my son and my wife, I imagine we’re going to have to cut that out of our budget completely” said Walters, “We indeed have to cash in part of my retirement to pay off all of our bills including our house.”

Walters explained his concerns revolved around, according to his count, the 199 families impacted.

“As anybody knows, anytime you have money problems, usually that creates problems at the home level as well,” said Walters. At his home in Sullivan, Walters had a running tally of miners he knew, and what they were doing in their career path. A list of names; some typed, some hand written sat on his couch.

“I think that every person matters, and every name means something,” said Walters.

The picture, Walters explained, didn’t just revolve around job loss at the mine, that businesses surrounding the mines would also feel the impact. Companies that provide services to the mines on a contract basis, Walters stated, would be out of work for a while. Eventually, he noted, miners that utilize nearby gas stations would likely see a loss of revenue from miner traffic.

Sunrise Coal reached out to WTHI Wednesday and offered a statement regarding the job transactions. The company in July held a week long job fair inviting miners from Oaktown and Petersburg to reapply.

“While Sunrise Coal could not offer employment to everyone that was then working at the mines, we are pleased that we were ultimately able to make job offers to over 680 individuals,” said the release, “At Sunrise Coal, our mission is safety and efficiency. All of our decisions are based with those goals in mind, and we look forward to continuing our mining operations in a safe and efficient manner.”

As for Kris Walters, he told WTHI he would pursue possible mining opportunities in Gibson and Sullivan Counties.

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