COAL INDUSTRY IN KENTUCKY SEEKS TO HIRE IMMIGRANT MINERS
Coal industry officials in Kentucky have begun an effort to recruit workers from abroad in an effort to shore up the faltering native-born workforce. Officials say that as many as 1000 jobs are going unfilled, leading them to seek workers from other parts of the world, most notably, Ukraine. About 20 workers are due to arrive from Ukraine later this year.
While industry officials are welcoming the workers, state regulators have safety concerns related to the fact that most of the workers have only limited or no English skills. The Kentucky Department of Mines and Minerals has approached the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration about the possible problems that could be caused by workers who lack basic English skills. Mining is an inherently dangerous occupation with accidents often leading to multiple deaths.
Local industry officials acknowledge that the language barrier could create problems, but say that they will only hire foreign workers with a basic knowledge of English. They say that the workers have excellent mining skills and an excellent work ethic. Under the current plan, proposed workers would receive English language training before coming to the US.
While industry officials say they are trying to deal with a labor shortage, representatives of coal mining unions say that is not the case. According to the local representative of the United Mine Workers, there are about 3,000 coal miners in the state looking for work, but the owners of the mines do not want to pay the workers because they are older, demand higher wages, and are unionized. This figure is disputed by operators of the mines who say that they are not discriminating on the basis of age or union membership.