Workers at Alcoa’s Massena East plant met with their union yesterday to find out about the deal it’s made with the aluminum company when it closes the plant. The results, the Watertown Daily Times and North Country Now report today, are somewhat muddy. Speaking to North Country Now, Steelworkers Local 450 President David LaClair characterized the deal as, well, OK:
“Overall I’m not going to say it’s the best … however, I believe it’s a decent proposal for our members to take into consideration and move forward…I’m not going to say people were excited…They’re taking it all into context, reviewing what their options are.”
The deal reached between Alcoa and United Steelworkers Local 450 and 420 offers employees at both the East and West plants (the latter isn’t closing) incentives to retire, quit or transfer to factories in other states. Of the East plant’s 332 workers, 254 are in the union and thus part of this deal; of those, 95 to 100 qualify for early retirement.
So: Workers at both plants can take an early retirement package with penalties waived for being too young or having too little seniority; those who take that deal will get a lump sum payment of $25,000 plus a $500 for every year of service. They can also transfer to plants in Arkansas, Indiana, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Washington, and receive $15,000 plus $500 per year of service, plus moving expenses. The intention in offering the incentives to workers at both plants, Local 420-A president Robert Smith told the Times, is to create more opportunities for Massena East workers to transfer to the West plant if they want to (they won’t get the $15,000, $500 or moving expenses if they do, though.)
There seems to be a bit of a loophole in the agreement, however, where the agreement between Alcoa and the union does allow for the possibility that some people might not find themselves with jobs. According to LaClair (in North Country Now), East plant workers with less seniority who aren’t interested in those choices can try to get into the West facility. Some will also be able to join the team that will tear down the potlines over an 18-to-24-month period after it ceases operation. The agreement also calls for the creation of 25 apprenticeships at the Alcoa West plant, the Times reports.
Also this, which is interesting, from the Times:
“Mr. LaClair called the settlement ‘a decent agreement’ and said he considers it a step in the right direction toward the company’s planned modernization project, at which point the East plant would reopen. [United Steelworkers International representative James] Ridgeway said he also is confident that the modernization will occur, noting the closure of the final two potlines at Alcoa East was something discussed in the past.”
According to the Times, some of the plant’s younger workers, “visibly upset,” left before the end of one of yesterday’s two meetings, but weren’t willing to comment. Apparently veteran employees, who do better under this deal, were more satisfied.
It’s not completely clear how many people for whom transferring or taking early retirement doesn’t make sense might find themselves out of a job, but the deal (according the the Times) is apparently within the confines of the deal Alcoa struck with the state to keep 900 employees in Massena and not have “involuntary layoffs” as a result of this plant closure. So we’ll see how that works going forward.
As for the plant closure’s impact on the larger community, the fact that Alcoa is paying people to transfer out of state (and not offering a lot of opportunities to stay local) is sure to be a big thing; or, in the words of Ridgeway, “I can’t say this won’t have any impact on the Massena community.”
Employees have until Feb. 21 to accept the deal.