PITTSBURGH, March 1, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Negotiations among the United Steelworkers (USW), Century Aluminum and its retirees have led to an agreement in principle that may restore health care benefits to retirees and lead to the reopening of the company's smelter in Ravenswood, W.Va.
"This victory is a tribute to the solidarity of Century's retirees and the diligence of the union and political leaders who stood by retirees as they fought to win back coverage earned over a lifetime of hard work,'' said USW International President Leo W. Gerard.
"We specifically thank West Virginia senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for their instrumental efforts in bringing the parties to agreement. We're pleased at the possibility of good jobs returning to Jackson County."
Century closed the smelter in Ravenswood in February, 2009 as aluminum prices fell during the severe economic downturn. Some 650 employees lost their jobs.
In January, 2010, Century unilaterally ended health-care coverage for hundreds of Medicare-eligible retirees. Coverage for early retirees between the ages of 55 and 65 was dropped in 2011.
During the dispute, retirees set up an "Occupy Century Aluminum" camp outside of the closed smelter. Their encampment, modeled on the Occupy Wall Street protests, highlighted a national crisis in pension and health care funding
"It is notable that the retiree committee, with support from politicians in their state and local community, were able to come together with the company to find a solution for an increasingly difficult issue across America," said USW International Vice President Tom Conway, who was involved in the talks. "It's a settlement that will work for our retirees by giving them some stability and decent levels of health care coverage."
Immediately after Century moved to cut retiree benefits, the USW filed a lawsuit seeking reinstatement. The agreement also settles that lawsuit, pending court approval.
The agreement clears the way for the company to take steps necessary to restart the aluminum plant and then begin its contributions to a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) plan that will provide health insurance and other benefits to retirees.
Restarting the plant also depends on other factors including Century receiving proposed state tax breaks for its energy needs, a favorable energy supply contract and a labor agreement covering USW-represented production workers.
The USW represents about 850,000 working men and women in the United States and Canada in a wide variety of industries, ranging from glass making to mining, paper, steel, tire and rubber and other manufacturing environments to the public sector, service and health care industries.
Jim McKay (412) 562-2441
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)