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Alcoa to maintain 750 jobs in Massena, provide technical training under new agreement

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MASSENA — Alcoa will maintain 750 jobs at its Massena West plant and train workers for high-demand, technical jobs under a deal announced Monday afternoon by Alcoa, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York Power Authority.

The 750 jobs are down from the 900 agreed upon in 2008 that would allow the aluminum manufacturer to continue to receive low-cost power from the New York Power Authority.

Also as part of the agreement, NYPA will temporarily reduce Alcoa’s hydropower supply contract of 478 megawatts while supplying enough energy to support operations at the West plant. The new agreement supplements a previous agreement that was reached in 2009 and amended in 2011.

NYPA also is waiving two utility charges on Alcoa’s monthly power bills to “support the viability of the company’s Massena operations during a global downturn in the aluminum industry,” according to a release from Gov. Cuomo’s office.

The moves, Alcoa officials said, will preserve the competitiveness of the Massena West smelter. They also will minimize the impact of the closure of the Massena East potline on the workforce. The company announced in January it would permanently close the remaining potlines at Massena East because they were no longer competitive in an aluminum market where prices have dropped significantly.

That shutdown was completed Saturday, according to Alcoa spokeswoman Laurie A. Marr.

“The last pot was tapped and the power was shut off to the lines. The decommissioning of the potlines will take several years,” she said.

The 332 employees affected by the closure are expected to take advantage of voluntary incentive programs, job transfers and/or training programs, Alcoa officials said.

Seventy-four employees from the East plant and 66 employees from the West plant opted for early retirements, which included a lump sum payment of $25,000, with an additional $500 for each year of service to the company. Approximately 30 employees, the majority of them at the East plant, took severance packages, offered to those who might not qualify for early retirement. One employee elected to transfer to a plant outside of Massena.

Alcoa employed 332 employees at the East plant, with 254 of them belonging to the union. The West plant employs about 675 workers, with approximately 500 of them belonging to the union.

Alcoa officials said they expect more than 50 employees to participate in what they call Massena’s largest-ever apprenticeship program to prepare workers for technical jobs that will be needed as part of the plant’s future operations. They said three- and four-year state-certified programs will provide training and resources for employees to become electricians, mechanics and machinists.

“Any time there’s opportunities like that, it’s just what it is — opportunities. It’s an opportunity to move within the plant and also for the people that are getting the new training to advance themselves. It works good all the way around,” United Steelworkers Local 420-A President Robert A. Smith said in a news release issued by Alcoa. “It’s great news. What we try and do obviously is maintain as many jobs as possible.”

The president of the local that served Alcoa’s East plant was upbeat about the future.

“Even though today signals the end of one smelting era at Massena East, Governor Cuomo’s announcement today hopefully lays the foundation for a future smelting era in Massena,” United Steelworkers Local 450-A President David W. LaClair Jr. said in the release.

“The bottom line was to avoid layoffs,” NYPA President and Chief Executive Officer Gil C. Quiniones said in the release. “We made it clear that this was paramount for Alcoa to continue to be assured of its full low-cost power allocation from NYPA’s St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Hydroelectric Power Plant. The fact that we’ve been able to reach a satisfactory accord reflects the recognition by the state of New York and Alcoa of the need to minimize the impact of the Massena East potlines closing and to rebuild this vital facility.”

Gov. Cuomo said in the release that the agreement was made to avoid layoffs and keep modernization plans for the East plant on track.

“The news in January of Alcoa’s plans to deal with the global changes in the aluminum markets led to immediate discussions with Alcoa to avoid layoffs and keep Alcoa’s plans to modernize the East plant on track,” he said in a news release. “This agreement achieves those objectives and applies firm job commitments that Alcoa must adhere to for its continued use of some of the lowest-cost electricity in the country.”

Ms. Marr said there is no change to the overall modernization project schedule at the Massena East operation.

“As Alcoa’s contract stipulates, the company will conduct a financial review at the end of 2015, and move forward subject to board approval,” she said.

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