Century, Constellium and the Nov. 6 election
CONSTELLIUM, which owns the aluminum rolling mill at Ravenswood, says it has lost money in 11 of the last 13 years. Its contract with Steelworkers Local 5668 has expired.
About 570 members of the local have applied for
Century Aluminum idled the adjacent aluminum smelter in February 2009, throwing more than 650 members of the same local out of work. Century later ended health care benefits for retirees.
Constellium says it needs Steelworkers, who have first-dollar health coverage, to accept slightly less
advantageous health care benefits in exchange for some monetary benefits over the life of the contract.
The Legislature has approved, and the governor has signed, legislation to give Century $20 million in state tax credits for each of the next 10 years if it restarts.
But Century says a restart also hinges on state Public Service Commission approval of a preferential electricity rate that could shift some of its power costs to residential and other industrial power users.
Opponents have said that could result in other
consumers shouldering as much as $196 million of Century's power costs over the next 10 years.
A restart at Century would put as many as 487 members of the local back to work.
Make no mistake. Both plants are important, and not only to Steelworkers and Jackson County.
Century accounted for 10 percent of Appalachian Power Co.'s rate base in West Virginia. Its shutdown has already caused $17.3 million a year in costs to be shifted to other Apco customers.
The state has an interest, too. Restarting Century could bring the state $20 million in revenue per year.
Century CEO Michael Bless has said the idled smelter now costs the company about $5 million a year, and that it will take $90 million to restart it.
Which is contingent upon decisions that lie in the hands of state government.
Bless has said that if Century restarts, the company "will immediately pay millions of dollars for health care benefits for retirees . . . ."
But if the PSC gives special electric rates to
Century, it will be forcing residential customers and
other industrial power users to provide - at best - a no-interest loan to Century.
And if the state grants unemployment benefits to striking Steelworkers at Constellium, it will essen-tially be forcing other companies that pay into the fund to subsidize a strike.
West Virginians need to know how the state intends to use its power in the Century and Constellium cases.
Will it put its finger on the scale to help its allies in organized labor?
Will the state do that by shifting costs to residential power users, other industrial electricity users, and other companies that pay into the unemployment compensation fund?
The state should answer both questions promptly.
West Virginians go to the polls Nov. 6.