Alcoa to cut production at Massena East plant by a third

Alcoa says its production cuts at its east plant won't result in layoffs, but union officials say they're prepared for anything. Photo: Gary Stevens, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Alcoa says its production cuts at its east plant won’t result in layoffs, but union officials say they’re prepared for anything. Photo: Gary Stevens, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

UPDATE 12:06pm: David Sommerstein here, with a little more information about the idled potline from a conversation with Alcoa spokeswoman Laurie Marr. It’s one of three potlines in the East plant, all of which will be replaced eventually by one long potline that’s the core of the modernization project.

Marr says because of the potline’s older technology, “it’s one of the most high cost smelters in the Alcoa system.” Since Alcoa announced last May it was planning on curtailing some of its production capacity in response to dropping prices, there was little surprise that this potline was chosen.

As for how to close a line that employs 100 people without layoffs, Marr would only say the details are yet to be worked out with United Steel Workers Local 450 union.

Here’s the original post:

There was a tremendous amount of press this spring about Alcoa’s deal to invest $600 million in its two Massena plants, and guarantee 900 jobs there, in exchange for a good deal on hydropower and an agreement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow the company to pursue a less expensive plan to clean up the PCBs the company dumped in the Grasse River during the 1950s and ’60s.

Now the company, which is a huge employer in the North Country, is permanently idling one of its potlines at the Massena East plant. The potline produces 40,000 metric tons of aluminum. According to a company press release, Alcoa says it’s cutting production to stay competitive as aluminum prices have fallen by a third:

“We committed in May to review our global smelting capacity for possible curtailment to maintain the Company’s competitiveness,” said Bob Wilt, president of Alcoa’s Global Primary Products. “Aluminum prices, including premiums, have fallen to four-year lows and we continue to operate in an uncertain, volatile market.”

Alcoa’s spokeswoman in Massena, Laurie Marr, says the company does not anticipate layoffs. “Discussions will take place with the United Steel Workers in the coming weeks to work out details,” wrote Marr by e-mail, “but it is our goal to minimize the impact on employees.”

North Country Congressman Bill Owens seems to have summed up local feeling on the matter (or at least, official local feeling — I’d be very surprised if something different weren’t being expressed in homes, bars, and diners throughout the area), in a quote from the story:

While I am disappointed by this situation, I am happy Alcoa is going forward with their recently begun expansion project. I am hopeful today’s news will not result in layoffs and that the expansion will ultimately increase employment in northern New York.

A reminder that while Alcoa Massena currently employs about 1,200 workers, the deal the company made in April only has it guaranteeing 900 jobs. WWNY reports 360 people work in the East plant, 260 of whom are hourly employees.

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5 Comments on “Alcoa to cut production at Massena East plant by a third”

  1. Daniel C. says:

    Why is it, Nora, that you always seem to espouse a negative tone regarding Alcoa? Have you ever been to the plant or talked to the employees? I’ve worked at the plant for years, and I’ve never heard of nor witnessed any of your reporters at the plant except for large media events (and in those cases, there have always been factual mistakes in the stories broadcast on air and/or posted online).

    I’ve been a loyal NPR listener and donor for years. While the negativity in your Alcoa coverage is thinly veiled, it’s obvious. And it has cost you my monthly pledge. Maybe I’ll reconsider if your staff actually takes the time to get to know the largest private employer north of Syracuse and cover it accurately and objectively.

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  2. David Sommerstein says:

    Hi Daniel – Thanks for taking the time to read our reporting. I’d like to respond briefly to one point you raise.

    NCPR News has reported extensively, seriously, and in-depth on Alcoa since well before I came on board 13 years ago. Here’s an oral history of the plant from 1989:

    http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/1242/20020705/more-on-the-history-of-massena-and-alcoa

    Since I arrived in 2000, I personally have toured the plant twice for stories. I’ve covered more than a dozen press conferences there by Schumer, Clinton, Spitzer, Paterson, Pataki, McHugh, you name it.

    We’ve covered labor strikes. We’ve covered layoffs and re-hirings and layoffs again. We’ve spoken with employees, labor unions, mayors, county legislators, people in restaurants and bars about Alcoa. We’ve covered environmental clean-ups and power allocations.

    Here’s a link to 62 stories that show up under our “alcoa” tag. It’s by no means exhaustive. But it gives you an indication that we take the largest private sector employer north of Syracuse very seriously.

    http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/tags/alcoa

    I hope you’ll remain a loyal NPR listener and NCPR News follower.

    Respectfully,
    David Sommerstein, NCPR

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  3. Michael Greer says:

    Is anyone paying attention to simple, stupid arithmetic? They promised 900 jobs. They currently employ 1200. We all accepted the assurance of 900 jobs as good news. Why? Am I being dense here, or is everyone else?

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  4. Daniel C. says:

    I appreciate your response, David. And I appreciate that NCPR has “covered” Alcoa. However, you failed to address the negative tone espoused in recent blog posts, as well as the fact that recent coverage has been questionable, at best, in terms of accuracy.

    And while you have toured and talked, obviously the folks writing the recent blog posts and broadcasts aren’t quite so familiar with the operations. I understand there are a lot of people who don’t have a ton of good things to say about Alcoa. I have no problem with NCPR broadcasting those voices, but I expect any media agency with integrity to always consider both sides of every story.

    Consistently snarky blog posts don’t give me any expectation of objectivity in regards to NCPR’s coverage of Alcoa. Recent factual errors in both blogs and related broadcasts just seal the deal.

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  5. John says:

    @Daniel C, I’m not seeing any snark here or any factual inaccuracies. Care to enlighten the rest of the readers of this blog on what isn’t true in the writing above?

    If not it seems like unfounded accusations and hot air from an Alcoa insider; probably not the most independent of sources.

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