Coal Jobs: The Human Factor

The words “job creation” are a staple talking point in political debates and topical conversations on state governance. While the creation of jobs is always a laudable goal, in Pennsylvania we are fortunate to already have strong employment numbers provided by the coal industry. When jobs are thrown around as talking points, they are often seen as just a number. When you have met the men and women who work these jobs, the families that they support and the businesses that rely on them, it adds a human factor to those numbers that is often overlooked.

Coal has long-been a driver of employment in Pennsylvania. Statewide coal helps provide over 36,000 jobs, with 8,100 directly by the industry. Annually this provides $2.2 billion in labor income and $4.1 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy. (Get the facts on coal in Pennsylvania here.)

Brian L., a Buggy Operator for MEPCO LLC and resident of Fayette, PA said, “The only alternate work available to me is at a box plant and the pay is much less. I can afford now for my kids to go to college and I’m grateful for the job.”

The coal industry provides jobs and training to employees directly out of high school. After training as a “red hat” for one year and going through extensive safety training, employees are able to pursue the different types of jobs available in the industry. These jobs typically pay $30,000 more than the median income in the counties in which they operate, supporting entire families – and many of them for generations.

Chad T., a Section Foreman at MEPCO LLC has worked in coal mines for over 15 years and said, “A college degree doesn’t do much for you out here. You can’t make money like this anywhere else. You’re either a doctor, lawyer or coal miner. Each shift is with the same guys and we all rely on each other. It becomes like a family. If you don’t mind working hard, this is a quality job. I know my boys will work for the coal industry one day.”

​With generations worth of coal available to mine, it is understandable that those employed by the industry plan on raising their children to follow in their footsteps and work in this industry. Unfortunately, current and proposed EPA regulations have brought the premature closure of coal-fired power plants and lack of investment and advancement for the industry. (Learn more about these regulations here.)

Doug, a Continuous Miner for MEPCO LLC said, “This is it for me. This is it for most of us. We don’t know how to do anything else. They’re good jobs and we like working them. We wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

Jay Popielarcheck, a 25-year old mine worker said, “Like everyone on my crew, our wives are able to stay at home with the kids. My income is the only income we have. If something were to happen to coal. It would be like starting over.”

It isn’t just the men and women with paychecks signed by a coal company that rely on this industry. The ripple effect of this coal is vast. From construction companies in Western Pennsylvania to boilermakers in Philadelphia to the trains that run statewide, this industry employs and benefits thousands.

“Any public discussion about coal mining is incomplete without taking a moment to acknowledge the ‘people impact’ of our industry. Beyond the well-paying jobs provided, coal mining is the economic backbone of entire regions of our country. When the industry struggles, so do our communities – from the local car dealerships and grocers, to the tax revenues that help build schools and hospitals,” said Brian Turk, Director of Government and External Affairs at Alpha Natural Resources.

Coal provides reliable and low-cost electricity and drives employment for businesses and industries like manufacturing that rely on stable and affordable electric rates to thrive and offer employment. (Read about the role coal plays in Pennsylvania’s electricity here.)

Autumn Laskody, owner of Autumn Woods Hair Care Studio in Waynesburg, PA uses electricity in every aspect of her business which employs more than ten people. “A rise in energy costs would be detrimental for a business like mine. Everything we do here uses electricity. The coal industry brings customers to the region that support my business and my staff rely on the well-being of this business for job security.”

In Western Pennsylvania where employees cross state lines for the quality jobs at Pennsylvania mines, it brings customers, patrons and tax revenue to the local economies.

Jim Popielarcheck, a mechanic in Jefferson, PA said, “I support my family this way and a lot of people come from Ohio and West Virginia traveling through Greene County to buy gas and groceries here and drop off their cars to get their tires and oil changed and that all will stop. Locally the coal mines buy from concrete places from locks to bolts and it will put a lot of people out of business without coal.”

Each one of the 36,000 jobs the coal industry provides in Pennsylvania is a real person with bills, families that rely on them and a work ethic worth fighting for. When government officials talk about “bankrupting an industry” and donations are made to campaigns to “kill coal”, the real people tied to those jobs should be considered. Jobs built from American energy, and supporting American families and communities nationwide should not be targeted by government, but protected.