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Constellium steelworkers go on strike

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About 700 production and maintenance workers, members of the United Steelworkers of America, went on strike against Constellium Rolled Products in Ravenswood just after midnight Sunday.

Constellium, in a statement released shortly after the strike began, said the "union negotiating committee's continued refusal to allow employees to vote on [the] contract [is] 'unfortunate,' given generous proposals presented by the company."

On July 26 and 27, local union workers overwhelmingly voted against the company's earlier proposal for a five-year contract.

After the vote, Constellium and the USW began renewed negotiations in Charleston, which broke off Wednesday.

"The parties have been in negotiations since late May for a new collective bargaining agreement," Constellium stated in its news release. "The parties had returned to the negotiating table late Saturday at the request of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, but their discussions failed to resolve the ongoing deadlock."

A man who answered the telephone at the USW Local 5668 union hall near Ravenswood Sunday afternoon said, "I am not in a position to give you any information. I could not tell you when it would be available."

Jason Miller, president of USW Local 5668 in Ravenwood, previously said he does not want to debate the new contract in the media.

Randy Moore, a subdistrict director for the USW in West Virginia, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Karen Gorrell, whose husband worked at Century's Ravenswood plant for 33 years, has led efforts by Century retirees to win back health benefits they lost after Century closed its plant in February 2009.

On Sunday, Gorrell said, "I don't think I have anything to say [about the Constellium contract details] on the record, but I told the president of the local that I don't think they should have gone on strike.

"I know that health insurance was the big battle with Constellium. My understanding is that they are not after the retirees' insurance. They are more after the workers' insurance, wanting to reduce their benefits."

On March 15, Century reached an agreement with its retirees and their spouses, led by Gorrell, to restore some of the health benefits taken away from them after that plant closed.

Century is still working to reopen its plant, which is directly adjacent to the Constellium plant along the banks of the Ohio River in Jackson County.

Century wants Appalachian Power to cut its electricity rates to facilitate the plant's reopening. Those cuts could shift some of those costs to other APCO consumers.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission is likely to make a ruling on Century's request by mid-September.

In its Sunday news release, Constellium said it made an offer to the union "earlier this week that would provide hourly employees with a net gain of more than $23,000 over the [five-year] life of the contract," including a $7,000 bonus for each USW worker when the contract is approved.

"The union responded by refusing to present the offer to employees, canceling the parties' contract extension and announcing its intention to strike," Constellum stated.

Constellium said its latest proposal also withdrew a previous requirement that employees would have to participate in a company health-care plan requiring them to pay 10 percent of total health-care costs for the life of the new contract.

Its latest contract proposal, Constellilum said, "only would have required employees to make monthly contributions to their health-care benefits and share in future cost increases."

Gorrell worries about the impact a Constellium strike might have on the plans of Century to reopen its plant late this year or early next year.

If its own plant reopens, Century plans to immediately hire 470 employees to operate it, including workers laid off in February 2009. Century also plans to hire 140 additional employees to refurbish the aging plant and make it more efficient.

Gorrell said, "I think this is really going to hurt our situation, as well. For Constellium to be on a strike is not good for Century's thinking about reopening, because they are so connected.

"I don't know whether it will be a short strike or a long one, but this is not the same world it was 30 years ago. Today, when you go on strike, you may never go back to work.

"I hope it ends soon and I hope it ends well. I am very concerned."

Based in Paris, Constellium has 9,500 employees working in 26 countries and a market presence in more than 60 countries.

Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp. opened the Jackson County aluminum smelting and rolling complex back in 1958, operated it until 1989, then sold it to Ravenswood Aluminum.

When Ravenswood Aluminum later sold the facility, it split into two plants. Alcan Rolled Products operated one and Century Aluminum operated the other. Constellium bought the Alcan plant in May 2011.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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