GILLETTE, WY. (KOTA TV) - The city of Gillette, Wyoming was rocked by nearly 600 layoffs on July 1 when a major employer shut down two local coal mines.
Former employees of Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines having a barbecue in Gillette, Wyoming. (KOTA TV)
Coal mining, and the businesses that support it, are the heart of the Gillette area economy. Those losses, shake the very foundation of the city's well being.
Former employees of Blackjewel LLC's Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines gathered at Dalbey Memorial Park for a barbecue.
Although they did not want to ruin the light-hearted atmosphere by talking about work, they said the layoffs were still fresh on their minds.
"Hey, no money to pay you. You have to go home. No info. Clean out your basket if you want. We had an hour to vacate the premises before it was locked down by the sheriff and Homeland Security," said Ty Cordingly, a laid-off production tech of Eagle Butte coal mine.
Cordingly is the sole provider for his family, and without the job he's had for 13 years, he's worried about how he'll care for his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old son.
"The biggest concern that I have going forward is having insurance for my son, medical insurance. For me that's more detrimental I feel than just the paycheck," said Ty Cordingly.
Job loss in the coal industry is not new to Wyoming. In 2016, Alpha, Peabody and Arch Coal declared bankruptcy, but the mayor of Gillette says this is not the same situation.
"This isn't the same type of war on coal like we felt three years ago. It was just bad management of those mines," said Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King.
Cordingly shares similar sentiments.
"I'm a little upset at the state of Wyoming and some of our representatives. There's enough money locally that the state could solve the problem, but I feel the coal has been targeted by both sides as a political issue and that they don't look at the human impact or the human cost. I think that's the problem that Wyoming has to address in the future," adds Cordingly.
It's not yet clear if Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr will reopen, but workers are hopeful they will.