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Employees from Alcoa’s east and west plants both offered early retirements

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MASSENA - Employees from Alcoa East and Alcoa West met with union leaders Thursday to learn how the company’s closure of the Alcoa East plant would affect them.

Employees from both plants are being offered early retirements and transfer incentives, as well as quit packages that United Steelworkers Local 450-A President David W. LaClair Jr. said should help Alcoa stay within the terms of its low-cost power agreement that require the company to maintain 900 jobs in Massena.

“I think with the agreement we reached that Alcoa is attempting to keep themselves within the parameters of its power agreement with the power authority and Gov. Cuomo,” he said.

United Steelworkers International Union representative James Ridgeway said he’s confident the deal will also help the company avoid involuntary lay-offs, something that the Governor’s office said would constitute a breach of the company’s power contract.

“I can’t say this won’t have any impact on the Massena community, but it appears as if no one will be involuntarily separated from a job at Alcoa,” he said.

According to the agreement reached between the unions and Alcoa, employees would be offered early retirements, quit packages and one-time payments if they transfer to “other facilities within the master agreement.” Mr. LaClair said employees transferring to work at Alcoa West would not be eligible for the incentive.

Plants that employees could transfer to include two in Texas, two in Indiana, and plants in Tennessee, Iowa, Washington, Arkansas and North Carolina. They would receive $15,000 plus $500 for each year of service with the company for transferring to those plants.

Local 420-A President Robert A. Smith said the intent behind West Plant employees being offered a similar agreement is to create job openings that could be filled by East Plant employees.

Mr. Ridgeway, who has been involved in union negotiations for “more than 20 years,” said the agreement reached in Massena is one of the best he’s ever seen.

“This is unquestionably the best early retirement package Alcoa has ever offered,” Mr. Ridgeway said.

According to a copy of the agreement obtained by the Daily Courier-Observer, details of the package, which are the same for employees choosing to leave the company, include a lump sum payment of $25,000, as well as an additional $500 for each year of service to the company.

“The lump sum payment will be made in April, 2014 for those who retire or quit on April 1, 2014,” the agreement reads.

Employees have until Feb. 21 to accept the deal.

When asked what kind of impact the deal will have, Mr. LaClair said at this point, it’s hard to tell.

“We won’t really see the impact for the next four to six weeks,” he said. “People have to make decisions that are life altering decisions that they need to talk over with their families.”

Of the 332 employees at the East Plant, Mr. LaClair said 254 workers are in the union with between 95 and 100 qualifying for early retirement.

One difference in the agreement for employees of Alcoa West versus Alcoa East is eligible employees choosing to retire from the East Plant are being credited two additional years of service toward the calculation of their pension benefits.

In addition to making accommodations for the company’s current employees in Massena, Mr. Ridgeway said the agreement also called for the creation of 25 apprenticeships at the Alcoa West plant.

“That’s 25 lives we’re going to alter forever,” he said.

Mr. LaClair called the settlement “a decent agreement” and said he considers it a step in the right direction toward modernization, at which point the East Plant would reopen.

“I think the agreement is a decent agreement that was reached between the USW locals 450-A, 420-A and Alcoa, which will hopefully continue the baby steps towards modernization,” he said.

Mr. Ridgeway said he too is confident modernization will occur, noting the closure of the final two potlines at Alcoa East was something discussed in the past.

“We were told a year or two ago the plan was to curtail these two potlines,” he said, noting the price of aluminum on the global market just expedited the process. “It just happened a year or two sooner than we had anticipated.”

Mr. Ridgeway, who was involved in the negotiation of the settlement, said the cooperation between Alcoa officials and union leadership from both plants was unlike anything he had ever seen before.

“I’ve been involved with negotiations for over 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the spirit, unity and cooperation that I’ve seen here,” he said. “The company seems to really put a value on its people.”

Mr. Ridgeway also said he’s expecting those same feelings to continue as employees shift from Alcoa East to Alcoa West.

“There was a feeling with 420 leadership that they wanted to welcome 450 members with open arms,” he said

The agreement also includes language calling for East Plant hourly employees to be involved in some aspects of the decommissioning and “harvesting” of the potlines at the East Plant.

After that work is completed, Alcoa will have the option of offering those workers either employment at the West Plant or, if eligible, retirements without incentive packages.

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