Marty Cottingham spent 34 years mining the Blue Creek Coal Seam in Alabama. He retired last October, after the company he worked for, Walter Energy, declared bankruptcy and, with the blessing of a federal judge, canceled the contract with its employees. Cottingham could lose the lifetime benefits he’d earned for himself and his wife during his decades of work. The deal offered by the company that took over, Warrior Met, would’ve meant that Cottingham brought home about half of his nearly six-figure income, had to pay more out of pocket for healthcare, and had fewer days off, he said. Cottingham decided to retire rather than accept the cuts.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss the mine.
On a recent visit to the number five mine, where Cottingham spent a majority of his years underground, he said the mine meant a steady income for his family, but it also brought camaraderie and deep friendships into his life. Parked in front of the stilled conveyor belts of the mine, he said “I feel good sitting right here, I do. I’ve got chills. This is where I spent my life, and I’m proud of my coal mining days, I really enjoyed it.”
Cottingham voted for Donald Trump this election. “Because he made the one statement that everybody wanted to hear down here. Coal’s coming back. That’s all that man had to say to get the vote down here, you know. For these people,” he said.
Indeed, Trump ultimately crushed Hillary Clinton in coal country.
Now, Cottingham is watching closely to see what Congress will do with a bill that would fund his longterm healthcare benefits, dissolved by the Walter Energy bankruptcy. The bill failed last session but has been reintroduced in the House and Senate.
Cottingham is also paying attention to what Trump does to bring back coal jobs, as then-Candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail. But analysts say bringing back coal is a matter of national and global markets, something Trump can’t directly control.