The shrinking family
They work on their knees eight hours each day in a cave not higher than three feet. The coal miners of West Virginia have one of the hardest blue collar jobs in America.
“If you don’t like this job , you ‘ll never gonna make it. It’s a lifestyle. It’s hard and requires a lot of you. I think no man can bear to work in these mines if they don’t like this kind of work. They will quit after a year or two.
Kenny Calloway is 64 years and the boss and owner of Chief Mining Inc. in Mullens in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. The coal mine has 32 employees.
This area is one of the richest and best coal industry fields in the world.
Some decades ago the coal mines in the United States gave work to close to a million people. The coal was literally fuel for the enormous steel production in the Great Lake region and in the U.S. in the 1800s and 1900s. The coalition of steel, coal, automobile and manufacturing industry was the core in creating the economic super power America.
It was from this growth the middle class in America emerged.
Today no more than 77,000 coal miners are left in the U.S.. Much of the decline in employment can be attributed to increased productivity per employee due to better machines and more efficient equipment in the mines.
But over the mines the skies are getting darker and the coal miners are facing their biggest challenge yet:
The heightened focus on climate changes and the increasing demand for green and clean energy is one of the main reason for the declining demand for coal. The price is so low that Kenny Calloway do not know how long his mine can last.
“This week can be the last one. We never know”, he says.
He would like to see the government agencies work together with the mining industry to make it cleaner, instead of trying “to smother” one of the few industries that gives work and money to West Virginia.
Kenny Calloway refuses to make any short cuts:
“I could do as many others have done, lay off the employees and shut the operation for a few weeks. Then restart the operation with 20 percent lower wages. But I will not. These are my friends, there are my relatives and we are a family. As miners we work very closely together. It is a very special bond between us”, Calloway says.
TBC: More on the cole miners and West Virginia later on in Hard.Land…