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Mixed response from Alcoa East employees following packed union meeting

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MASSENA - Anger, confusion, and, in some cases, optimism filled the minds of the 146 Alcoa East Plant employees who attended a meeting Thursday at the Massena Community Center to learn their fate when the plant closes it doors over the next few months.

Before the conclusion of the meeting between employees and representatives from the United Steelworkers Local 450-A, some hourly Alcoa workers - mostly younger - began storming out of the building, obviously frustrated with what they had heard. Many of those looking most upset declined comment. Older employees seemed more content with the news delivered by union leaders.

Union leaders and Alcoa reached a settlement on Wednesday on options for union employees following the closure of the Alcoa East plant.

An announcement was made on Jan. 15 that the company would be shutting down the final two pot lines at the former Reynolds Metals plant.

“I’ve got one comment to make. There’s power in the union,” Jake Hollenbeck said, before darting out of the meeting.

“A lot of the details are still kind of fuzzy. They’re still working them out,” Keith Wenette added. “The numbers are still being worked out. They need more information on who is available for retirement packages. Right now, this was more of a retirement incentive offer.”

Alcoa’s east plant employees 332 workers, while the west plant houses 669 employees.

A contract with the New York Power Authority requires Alcoa to maintain 900 jobs in Massena to keep its allotment of low-cost hydropower.

The agreement reached included options for voluntary retirements and quit incentives for the hourly employees on an extra contractual basis. Employees currently eligible and retiring under the incentive program will see an additional two years of pension service for the determination of their pension payments.

The employees would also receive a lump sum incentive payment of $25,000 plus $500 for each full year of employment with the company.

Those options satisfied some of the longer tenured Alcoa East employees like Jeff Small.

“I think the negotiating team did a heck of a job getting what they got for people. I am more fortunate than others because I’ve had a lot of time. I got 25 years in which, compared to a lot of the other guys, (is more,) Mr. Small said. “It’s a real good incentive for a guy like me to either leave or look for another job some place else.

“This is all volunteer. Anything that’s offered is all volunteer. They didn’t say anything about laying people off because they have the minimum number of 900 (employees) with the power agreement. They said the Governor’s office is willing to let that number go lower than that, if it’s voluntary. They’re not going to force anybody’s lay off... at this time.”

Mr. Small noted that his mind set was a bit different back on Jan. 15, when the original announcement of the closure was made.

“(On Jan. 15) nobody knew anything. Nobody knew what they were going to come up with, that the negotiating team would come up with any incentive at all, because the company really didn’t have to give you anything. But if they wanted to reduce numbers they had to give you something,” Mr. Small said. “So that’s what these guys did for four days - negotiating with the corporate people to give us some kind of an incentive to reduce the numbers and get rid of some of the people that are interested in going that are up in age and have a lot of years of service in them.

“There’s still some (questions) and answers for some of the younger guys because it’s a big decision, whether they want to take the quit package (or not.) They’re offering transfers to other plants, other than the west plant. There’s one in Washington (state), Davenport, Iowa, and Lafayette, Indiana. All three of those plants are hiring.”

There are other transfer location options for employees, but the only plant on the east coast is located in North Carolina.

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