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Miners Furloughed Again at Montana Coal Mine



By Camille Erickson

September 11, 2020
- In Montana, miners at the Decker coal mine in the Powder River Basin received unfortunate news this week when the operator announced 73 workers would be furloughed until January in response to the increasingly abysmal conditions of the coal market.

The decision, confirmed by the company on Thursday, marks the second time crews at the Decker coal mine in Montana have received furlough notices this year. The Decker coal mine is located in Big Horn County just north of Wyoming’s border. Many of the employees live in Sheridan and commute the 16 miles to the coal field.

“The decision to furlough dedicated employees was not easy,” said Leonard Wolff, general manager at Decker Coal Company. “We are committed to helping all who are impacted by this furlough, and we look to resume normal operations in the coming months.”

The company told the Star-Tribune the workforce reductions were in response to depressed electricity fueled by a tightening economy and stay-at-home orders.

“The majority of Decker’s domestic thermal coal is used to make electricity for manufacturing and other industrial activities that have been idled or reduced during the pandemic,” the company wrote in a statement. “Moreover, Decker has also experienced a drastic reduction in export sales this year due to these same market conditions that have impacted our overseas trade partners.”

Decker Coal Company furloughed 98 workers in May. It brought those employees back to work by the end of the month. But a period of uncertainty has once again struck miners and their families.

The mine produced just over 640,000 tons of coal and employed 164 workers in the second quarter of this year, according to U.S. Mining Safety and Health Administration data.

The Energy Information Administration, the country’s leading energy data agency, forecasts the U.S. will produce 28% less coal in 2020 than it did last year.

The recent wave of furloughs came on the heels of mass layoffs taking place across the Powder River Basin since the pandemic seized the country.

Over 500 coal miners have been laid off in the basin since the pandemic reached Wyoming and Montana. In addition, at least 300 coal miners have experienced furloughs. Rail company BNSF laid off 130 workers this year due to the decline in coal, and several workers at the state’s trona mines have also been furloughed.