Ohio, USA-based Murray Energy Corp. (MEC) confirmed just hours before the start of the Independence Day holiday weekend that it has issued potential layoff notices to its workforce in six states, stating that up to 4,400 miners—about 80% of its total front-line payroll—could be without a job by September.

The cuts are expected to be taken in Ohio as well as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois and Utah. Officials did not indicate which specific mines could see cuts, or the number of impacted workers at each mine or state. MEC issued Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notices July 1.

“Murray Energy hopes and expects to continue operating its mines, and will retain as many employees as practicable to ensure continued operation and to fulfill its obligations to its customers,” spokesperson Gary Broadbent said.

He also noted in an Associated Press interview that the WARN letters are considered a precautionary measure to comply with federal requirements. “No layoffs are contemplated or expected at this time,” he said.

MEC founder and President Robert Murray, an outspoken opponent of the Obama administration and changing regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the slumping coal market is to blame for the decision.

“These workforce reductions are due to the ongoing destruction of the United States coal industry by President Barack Obama, and his supporters, and the increased utilization of natural gas to generate electricity,” he said.

MEC said it will continue to sell and ship coal as normal even after any workforce reduction.

Just three days before privately held Murray announced the potential cuts—which could be coal’s largest-ever mass layoff should the plan come to fruition—members of the United Mine Workers of American (UMWA) rejected a new five-year labor deal with Murray and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA). The details of the deal were never publicly released, though the BCOA and UMWA both confirmed it would have gone into effect June 30 had it been ratified.

MEC employed about 8,400 one year ago; that figure is now 5,356. About 1,500 of those are union-represented workers.

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