As company spokeswoman Samantha Davison noted, the cutbacks are taking the form of shift reductions at most of the affected operations in West Virginia. But Alpha decided to idle its Pocahontas underground mine in Greenbrier County, an action that is expected to be permanent, she said. Pocahontas is a continuous miner operation. One section of the Grassy Creek No. 1 deep mine in Nicholas County also was being idled.

A single underground thermal coal mine, Hunter Peerless in Boone County, also was affected. Eight of the mine’s employees were among a total of 106 workers laid off overall. With the exception of Pocahontas, Davison stressed Alpha still is producing coal at the mines. She knew of no plans for additional cuts in the final months of 2013 but could not rule them out.

“We’re trying to kind of be as flexible as we can with the market,” she said. “As the market changes, we have to change.” Alpha went into 2013 hoping for an improved global met market, but its hopes have been less than fully realized. “The market has not rebounded quite like we thought it was going to,” she said.

The latest cutback was at least the third by Alpha in less than a year. In September 2012, the company slashed production by about 16 million tons annually at mines in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, eliminating about 1,200 jobs in the process. Then, last January, Alpha idled several thermal coal mines in eastern Kentucky, including the Cloverlick Nos. 1 and 3 mines in Cumberland, the Panther mine near Cumberland and the North Fork No. 4 mine near Partridge. About 200 miners lost their jobs as a result.