Last union mine in Illinois is slated to close

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Crown III MineFarmersville – The inspirational labor leader Mother Jones lies at rest near here in the union cemetery at Mt. Olive. But she may be turning over in her grave right about now with the announcement that Illinois’ last union mine will be closed.

The mine owner, Springfield Coal Co., and its operator, Tri County Coal, say they will shut down the Crown III mine on Dec. 20, just in time for Christmas for the 189 workers and several nearby towns they help support. It is located between Farmersville and Girard, on the border of Montgomery and Macoupin counties.

“It’s going to be hard on the miners,” said a local historian and writer, Tom Emery of Carlinville. “Not that many years ago, we had three union mines in Macoupin County.”

The mining area sits about 75 miles northeast of St. Louis. Other towns that will be affected include Girard, Carlinville, Litchfield and Virden – a town that will live forever in labor history for the 1898 battle in which company security guards arriving on a train exchanged gunshots with striking union miners, killing seven of them while losing four of their own.

CHEAPER COAL

The companies are blaming the mine closing on the Decatur-based agricultural giant, Archer Daniels Midland, which has been the sole customer for the mine’s output.

ADM’s spokesperson said the company found it could get coal cheaper elsewhere, although still from within Illinois.

Springfield Coal’s Tom Austin told the State Journal-Register that “it’s undetermined” if the mine will re-open, but that “anything’s possible.”

HELP FOR MINERS

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is gearing up to help the miners ­­– not by re-opening the mine, but by providing them with job-search workshops and helping them apply for unemployment.

The related Crown II mine near Virden was closed in 2007, and Crown III laid off some 40 workers in 2010.

State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) said he plans to meet with Springfield Coal to explore possibilities for keeping the mine open.

Emery said his great-grandfather came to the area in 1918 to work in the mines.

The community has rallied before to keep the mine open, he added. “That’s a big part of what they do,” he said. “They really got behind this mine.”

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