Coal Miner in West Virginia: Hope Is All I’ve Got

By Stan Williams Comments: 10 comments

Country roads, take me home
To the place where I belong
West Virginia, mountain mamma
Take me home, country roads

John Denver – Country Roads

Hope is all I've got.

Why did this fifth generation coal miner in West Virginia vote for Trump? Story of America went to West Virginia to document Bernie Sander's townhall in McDowell County, the poorest county in the second poorest state in the Union. Along the way, we met this fifth generation coal miner and Republican in Saulsville, West Virginia.

Posted by Story of America on Thursday, March 16, 2017

Coy Daniels is a 42 year-old coal miner from Wyoming County, WV. He is a fifth-generation coal miner and a strong union supporter of the United Mine Workers Of America (UMVA). Coy has been working in the mines for over 18 years. He loves the work he does. “The work I do helps power America”, Coy states with conviction.

He remembers at 10 years old, being on the picket line with his father, defending the mine against scab workers. One day while on a picket, the boss came up to try to break the line. He asked his father if he could throw a rock at the car, and his father said, “go ahead son. We have to protect our jobs.” He threw the rock and broke the window of the bosses car.

His role in the mines were to set the electrical cables that powered the coal extracting machines. These cables as you could imagine are very heavy. He had told hold them to the ceiling and then wait for someone to mount them. He has had multiple surgeries on his shoulders 4 years ago, Coy damaged his shoulder so much  that he is not able to go back to work in the mines. With no other jobs available for Coy to work, his wife Melanie picked up a 2nd job working at Jason’s Country Corner, a filling station in the unincorporated town of Saulsville, WV. Melanie’s primary job is working for the Head Start program in West Virginia. They have 3 children to take care of. His workmen’s compensation settlement has run out so he isn’t making any salary. Due to our current government policies on Social Security Benefits, he is not able to collect any Social Security relief. “We’re really struggling right now to make ends meet”, Coy said.

Coy is also a lifelong Republican. “My daddy was a Republican all his life and he taught me to be one too. I never questioned it.” Coy voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election because he promised to bring the coal jobs back.

When asked about other job opportunities, Coy said, “if there was another job that paid like the coal mine work here, I’d do it.” The coal miners in West Virginia starting salary is $60,000 a year. When asked about how he reconciled being a republican while those same politicians try to gut his union & healthcare benefits, he said, “I don’t know.”

What’s happening to Coy is a snapshot of what is occurring across America. People want to work, and the industry that previously flourished is no longer providing the jobs to keep the economy going. In West Virginia, coal production has tapered off since the 1970’s. Trump made a promise during his campaign to the people of West Virginia that, for purely economic reasons, he will never be able to deliver on.

I went to cover the issues that are facing the people of McDowell County, West Virginia and I was changed along the way. I have lived and been a part of organizing campaigns all over the country, and this was different. The people of West Virginia have a complicated relationship with mountain momma. What they take from it literally shortens their lives. Due to our national and worldwide dependency on coal and having no other options for jobs due to lack of infrastructure, people like Coy will be left out on the margins.

Almost all of our relationships begin and most continue as mutual forms of exploitation, be it mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both sides run out of goods.

W.H. Auden – Poet


  • Dawn McGinty 17 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    If the corner store is good enough for your wife, why not you? Just because you can’t make money in the mines doesn’t mean you can’t make money.

  • Vladicat 17 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    When he says “if there was another job that paid like the coal mine work here, I’d do it.” The coal miners in West Virginia starting salary is $60,000 a year. ” That makes me mad. My husbands company closed and instead of whining he took a job that paid $25,000 less to provide for our family. You do what you have to do. Our Toddler in Chief is not going to do any of the promises he said. Good thing I didn’t vote for him.

  • Connie 17 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    You have to wonder why the coal company he worked for did not provide long term disability benefits. If they did, he could take another job at lesser pay and make ends meet that way. He should also go back to school to retrain. Better than sitting at home and doing nothing, hoping the world will change. Not going to happen.

  • Tizzielish 17 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    How many jobs can that corner store provide? And how many long-term unemployed people are there in coal country, when the coal industry is shrinking fast?

    He thinks like a man, wants to provide more than his wife. He’ll get over that thinking when he needs to do any work for food. Give the guy time to adjust to the fact that his whole life has changed forever and he has to rethink everything, including how he sees himself and his role as a breadwinner.

  • Tizzielish 17 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    And, I assume, misogyny is alive and well in this man’s coal country. Corner store owners have patriarchal bias and, no doubt, have an endless supply of women to work for peanuts and the store owner is more comfortable offering low pay to females. It has always been this way and to put the burden of changing our culture on this guy seems unfair.

  • mike kaufman 18 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    COAL IS DEAD. Nothing the Orange Buffoon can do to stop that. THERE IS NO CLEAN COAL. This is an industry lie worthy of our current president. These coal workers have to realize that like blacksmith have gone the way of the horse and buggy, coal is dying. The coal plants are slowly changing to natural gas. there is NO going back to the “good ole days” Get an education in something with a future, and quit complaining. You could always go pick fruit or vegetables, and put an undocumented worker out of a job. Face it. The Orange One F-ed you into voting for him. Now you are superfluous. (that means you don’t count any more) You did your job, voted for a moron, and now you have to face reality.

  • Jim 18 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    These folks are delusional,they have known for many years this time was coming and hope will not feed the family. For some reason they didn’t equate improvement in production increases with a decrease in needed personnel and job longevity in its heyday back when coal employed 500,000 miners each man produced around 1800 pounds of coal per year In 2011 with a work force of just over 60,000 each man was credited with the production of 15 tons each Now I wonder why there is no need for those other 440,000 miners that damn Obama is waging war on us became the rallying cry and they bought it SMDH

  • JA Mulligan 18 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    The same people that say people don’t deserve governement help because they’re lazy and won’t work for min wage can also say they’re used to a union job and taking a lower paying job would not suffice? We agree, but you do what you can and get mad about your situation, you become involved and vote to change the people who make those laws you dislike. McConnell has been against you for years and you keep putting him back in office. Don’t stay a Republican and vote that way because your father did if its not working. Suppport who you and the people around you feel back your issues. You can’t run away and hope. It won’t work – it didn’t work.

  • Guest 21 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    Coal jobs are NOT coming back. dump is NOT going to do anything to help you out or bring those jobs back either. They are GONE. Instead of whining that the last guy, Obama, cost you your job, due to regulations to try and PROTECT you, whine to the coal company the left your town, AFTER they mined all the coal. That’s who you get MAD at. Get mad at the people running your town for NOT bothering to see beyond coal. If one mine closes close by, then another, then another…yours might be CLOSED next.

  • Anita O 21 / 03 / 2017 Reply

    Funny story pertinent to the article.

    A child watches mom make a roast. Mom cuts 1/3 of the roast off and puts the piece in the trash. “Mom, why do you do it that way?” ” your grandmother did it that way”. The next time they visit grandma the child asks her why she does that and she says her mother always did it that way. The next time they visit great grandma the child repeats the query. “Well honey, the roast didn’t fit into the pan and I had to cut off part of it to fit!”

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