RAVENSWOOD - The Century Aluminum retirees are calling on various parties to come together and come up with a solution that will start their benefits immediately and get the Ravenswood plant up and running as soon as possible.
Karen Gorrell, spokesperson for the Century Aluminum Retirees, recently sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; Century Aluminum CEO Michael Bless; and USW International Vice President Tom Conway expressing the retirees' frustration and disappointment over the delay in getting the plant operational again.
The reopening of the plant in Jackson County had been delayed as Century and Appalachian Power Co. have yet to reach an agreement on a power rate for the plant. Century has filed a petition for approval of a special power rate with the West Virginia Public Service Commission and both sides are presenting their arguments to the agency and a decision could be made by September.
''I am writing today because of the recent announcement about the apparent delay in getting the PSC approval which will obviously delay the restart of the Century Aluminum plant in Jackson County,'' Gorrell said. ''According to the quarterly conference call of Century Aluminum, Michael Bless indicated it will take another four months to prepare the plant for the restart if all goes well.''
During the retirees original negotiations with Century, it was Century's position they hoped to be making metal by the end of August, Gorrell said, adding many retirees thought they could get by through August without the reinstatement of their benefits.
There are several retirees who are not seeking medical attention because of they are uninsured, including herself, Gorrell said.
Karen Gorrell, spokesperson for the Century Aluminum Retirees, has sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; Century Aluminum CEO Michael Bless; and USW International Vice President Tom Conway expressing the retirees' frustration and disappointment over the delay in getting the Ravenswood plant operational again.
The retirees are asking all of those involved to come up with a plan to get the retirees benefits started immediately while work continues to get the plant up and running again.
''The recent announcement was quite shocking, to say the least, and very disturbing for the ones of us that are uninsured, and also for the ones that are financially burdened by the loss of benefits and the cost to reinsure themselves,'' she said. ''I feel the retirees and the state have bent over backward for the good of all concerned, to come to an agreement with Century and move forward with the process of getting the plant running.
''Everyone involved is well aware that we settled for a portion of the benefits we paid for over several decades. We understand that some times things happen that are not expected and can cause delays that were unintentional; however, catastrophic illnesses do not wait for PSC approval.''
Century closed its Ravenswood smelter in 2009, laying off around 650 workers. It discontinued health care coverage for retirees in 2010.
In March, the retirees of Century Aluminum accepted a deal with the company that would restore some of their lost health benefits and open the way for the Jackson County plant to reopen with aiding legislation passed by the state. The benefits will not go into effect until the plant is operational again.
Gorrell is asking all of those involved to come up with a plan that will get the retirees benefits started immediately.
''We are requesting a 'good faith' effort by Michael Bless and the Board of Directors at Century Aluminum to make the necessary contribution immediately to begin our VEBA program and carry it until the plant is running,'' she said. ''I believe that Century is sincere in their efforts to restart the plant and if they are, this should not be a problem.
''In the recent quarterly report alone, Century reported over nine million dollars profit due to changes in retiree benefits in Ravenswood.''
The retirees are trying to be as fair and respectable as they can, but many need those benefits started up as soon as possible.
''Please do not delay this any further, and for the good of the dedicated folks that contributed decades of service to the industry, let's make this happen sooner rather than later,'' Gorrell said. ''Our lives may depend on it.''