By June 18, 2015 Read More →

Laid-off miners hear retraining options in Wheeling

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Casey Junkins West Virginia Northern Community College Refrigeration, Heating and Air Conditioning instructor Joe Remias, left, discusses new career training with displaced coal miners Wednesday.

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Casey Junkins
West Virginia Northern Community College Refrigeration, Heating and Air Conditioning instructor Joe Remias, left, discusses new career training with displaced coal miners Wednesday.

WHEELING, W.Va. — While hoping their cellphones would ring with a call telling them to come back to work, about 20 displaced coal miners toured West Virginia Northern Community College on Wednesday to learn about training for new careers.

As the Marcellus and Utica shale industry continues growing at the same time these coal miners are losing their jobs, some seemed particularly interested in how they could go about trying to get jobs in the oil and natural gas fields.

Oil and gas firms “value hard work. You all are familiar with that,” college Petroleum Technology instructor Curt Hippensteel told the miners.

He said a lease operator – someone who watches over well sites once the drilling and fracking aspects are finished – can start out making about $65,000 per year, although they may have to work several hours of overtime to reach that amount.

Last month, Murray Energy Corp. either eliminated or laid off 1,829 workers across three states, including 754 from the company’s four Ohio Valley mines, in response to what the St. Clairsville company calls “the ongoing destruction of the U.S. coal industry by President Barack Obama.”

“I worked at Powhatan No. 6,” said Matt, a displaced miner who declined to give his last name. “I’m just here to see what they have to offer.”

Another miner declined to give his name, but said some of the workers believe they are “permanently laid off.”

Murray’s job cuts broke down as follows: 359 jobs eliminated at the Marshall County Mine; 146 jobs eliminated at the Ohio County Mine; 141 workers laid off from the Powhatan No. 6 Mine; and 108 miners laid off from the Century Mine near Beallsville.

In addition to petroleum technology, the college offers industrial training in welding, appliance repair and mechanical engineering.

“You are coal miners. You have already gone through a lot of training,” Refrigeration, Heating and Air Conditioning instructor Joe Remias told the group. “The more education you can get, the better you will do.”

Karri Mulhern, director of Economic & Workforce Development for the college, told the miners that having an industrial background does not mean they could not take totally different career paths. She cited the many business, health care and criminal justice programs the college offers.

“If you want to totally change your career, and you have the funding to do that, feel free to do that,” she said.

Courtney Johnson, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Commerce, which oversees WorkForce West Virginia, said displaced miners, along with their spouses and family members, are eligible for grants of up to $5,000 for training in careers such as health care, commercial truck driving, welding, electrical engineering, HVAC repair, diesel technology and chemical processing.

Additionally, WVNCC officials told the miners many of them would likely qualify for federal Pell Grants and other financial aid for which typical college students are eligible. The United Mine Workers of America also provides certain amounts of funding to help displaced miners and their families take college classes.

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