Learning about the layoffs
They had talked to us a few months before saying, ‘At this point in time, we have no intention of laying anyone off, but we’re not saying it couldn’t happen.’ So I was out, I had a back fusion done about seven months ago. They actually called me at home on Thursday and told me that I had been laid off. I was just getting ready to go back to work.
So I called some of my friends and told them and they said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.’ On Friday, they walked in and they got handed an envelope. They opened it up and it said either you stayed or you went, I guess. Those that were laid off were escorted off of the property and back to the bus.
They told us that if there was a layoff, it would be for people who have been written up, absenteeism. To me, I wasn’t absent, I didn’t call in. I had to have my back fixed from driving over those roads and so, computer-generated? I don’t know. And I’ve never had a write-up. I’ve never bit metal.
I think in the [Powder River] basin, they laid off about 4,000 people in the past few months. And I have a lot of friends who just up and left, who couldn’t even sell their homes. It’s been really bad. When I was working at the mine, I never really … well, I was married when I started working at the mine and two incomes is pretty darn good and you never thought, you know, what’s the big deal? Now that I’m divorced … I don’t even know how a one income family even makes it. It’s a struggle. It’s a big struggle.
What it's been like since the layoff
I guess what bothers me is that without us, the coal isn’t coming out of the ground. It’s not getting hauled to the hoppers, it’s not getting shipped where it needs to go. And I think there’s way too many people high up who don’t know what’s going on. They’re laying off people who have families, big families, small families, and they have to leave. They’ve had to uproot their kids from their schools. It’s been really really bad.
There are a lot of people who have just left. I’ve had friends who have families and they move to Arizona, Nevada, where they can find mining jobs. The thing is, a lot of the people who got laid off, that’s all they know. All they know is mining. I do have other skills, I’ve worked in other fields, so that helps some.
They keep saying, ‘It’ll come back, it’ll come back.’ Well in the meantime, what do you do until it does two years down the road; if it does, depending on who gets into office. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not … well my family’s here. My daughter’s here, my two grandkids are here. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to go someplace else.
Every week you apply, you apply for all these jobs and you just hope. I just want to find something. I don’t need to make any of the fun money I made before. I just need to survive. I don't want to move. I don’t want to lose my mom.
It’s been terrible. It’s a struggle. I’m still looking for a better paying job, but so are 200 other people. And the one thing that really upsets me is how they do hiring now. Everything is online, there’s no personal … you can’t go in and meet anyone. You’re just a number. They look at your resume or cover letter and if they don’t like, they don’t hire you. You don’t get to go in and hand your resume, and say ‘Hi, my name is Polly,’ etc.
Another thing they did: they told us they would carry our insurance for ninety days. So I thought, ‘Awesome, this will give us time to find another affordable insurance.’
But that wasn’t it. After three months, you had to continue to Cobra or find another affordable plan. If you didn’t, you had to back pay all of your medical bills from the day you were laid off. Yes, they went back to the day you were laid off and you had to pay your medical bills if you did not continue with Cobra, unless you got a job where you got benefits. Cobra cost me $642 per month plus my $1000 mortgage payment. How do you make that happen? So I thought, I’ll have to continue with Cobra, because I can’t afford my physical therapy and doctor’s appointments and tests and everything else. I can’t afford to pay that out of pocket. But they didn’t tell you all this, at the time. To find that out? I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, I can’t afford Cobra.’ It was brutal.
Is there help available, job retraining?
I think there is. I’m pretty sure there is. But I’m 61 years old. I just … all I wanted to do was retire from the mine and have enough money to retire. And that would have been in another four years. I’m too young to get Medicare, but I’m too old to … I don’t want to go back into nursing because, what’s the point? And with my back? I’m still having issues with my back. And the job I have now, you’re on your feet for the whole day. I work at the school cooking. I’m an assistant cook, so you’re on your feet from the time you get there in the morning until the time you leave in the evening, washing a lot of dishes, helping setup and tear down, helping prep food and I’m just like ‘Oh my god.’ But I don’t have a choice in the matter.
The [Wyoming Department of] Workforce Services place here is awesome. It’s really awesome. They’ve been very, very helpful. I’m really not very good with computers, so they’ve helped me get my resume from point A to point B and they’ve been really really helpful.
What's your message to people who may not know what's happening out here?
They need to get educated. They need to find out how bad it really is. People are struggling really bad. And I’m sure things are hard all over the country right now, but it’s hit us really, really bad. And there’s no jobs available. I mean, there’s jobs available but you can’t make a living off them. I could probably go to Walmart and get a job but they’re not going to pay me enough to pay my mortgage and basically, I’m too old to get two jobs. I don’t want to get off work and hardly be able to walk because your feet hurt so bad and go do something else. At my age, it’s been really bad. And there are people who did uproot their families and leave their homes, just let the banks take them.
They just don’t know how bad it is, people out east. Even people out west. They say, ‘go get another job.’ Well, you’re fighting with so many other people. It’s not like it used to be. Jobs used to be available. But people aren’t hiring because they don’t need any extra help. The money’s not there, the money’s not coming in. People aren’t spending money like they used to, they just don’t have it.
What do you say to coal executives making these decisions?
They need to educate themselves too. I don’t think they know the outcome of what could possibly happen. I mean, there are still workers at the coal mine. They are still shipping coal. Coal mines are going to be obsolete, so shut them down. Pull off the bandaid.
But they need to create new jobs. They need to fill that big hole back in. They need to reclaim that land. So why not hire people to start moving dirt? Just something. Instead of just ‘Sorry!’ We’re just a number, but without us, you don’t get your coal. Sure, we’re the low man on the totem pole, but if we’re not there to dig the coal out of the ground and get it where it needs to be, people are going to be hurting. You know, I understand the company had to have cutbacks, but I don’t know … I don’t like the way they went about it.
What do you say to the president and elected leaders in Washington, DC?
Oh, help. We need help. The country needs coal right now. I mean, yeah, maybe natural gas is cheaper and maybe better in the future. I don’t think our president right now … I really wish that they would just turn the power off. Just for three days. And say, ‘Okay, now what? What are you going to do?'
You can’t get your coffee in the morning and you can’t take a shower because your hot water heater isn’t working. I don’t think they know all the pieces that go to what’s going on. Because, without power, nothing is going to work. Just two or three days and people will see the consequences.
What's next for Polly
I’m in a really bad situation. This wasn’t the plan. The plan was to support myself finally and feel good about myself and now I’m going ‘You’re such a loser,’ and I’m not!
It’s not my fault. I mean, I show up to work every day. It’s like with this job, yeah I go to work and I hurt so bad, but they’re expecting me to be there so I’m going to be there. I’m not just going to call in and say, ‘Oh, I can’t make it today,’ because it makes it harder on somebody else.
My benefits are intact, so they say. I still have not moved my 401k money, it’s just still sitting there and I need to roll that over. It’s sitting there, but they’re not adding anything. Most companies have gone from a pension plan to adding more to your 401k. I have a pension from my first year, before they made the change. That’s just sitting there too. They have cut out the matching of the benefits. They’re not matching at all anymore. But the school district has a matching retirement program and health insurance, so that’s pretty great.
But I still have a mortgage payment and when I got the job with the school ... you hate to say this, but I was making more on unemployment with a part-time job than I’m making now at a full-time job with benefits. So, what do you do? I don’t know.