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Employees from Alcoa’s east and west plants both offered early retirements

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MASSENA — Alcoa employees at both the East and West plants will be offered incentives to retire, resign or transfer to factories in other states, under an agreement between the company and the Steelworkers union that was announced to workers Thursday.

“I can’t say this won’t have any impact on the Massena community, but it appears as if no one will be involuntarily separated from a job at Alcoa,” said United Steelworkers International representative James Ridgeway, who described the deal as “unquestionably the best early retirement package Alcoa has ever offered.”

Employees who retire or quit will receive a lump sum payment of $25,000 plus $500 for each year of service, according to the deal. “The lump sum payment will be made in April 2014 for those who retire or quit on April 1, 2014,” the agreement states.

Employees have until Feb. 21 to accept.

The buyouts should allow Alcoa to stay within the terms of its low-cost power agreement that require the company to maintain 900 jobs in Massena, said David W. LaClair Jr., United Steelworkers Local 450-A president.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration has pressed Alcoa to avoid involuntary layoffs as it shuts down the remaining two antiquated potlines at the East plant. The company was told that forced job cuts would breach its contract for New York Power Authority hydropower.

Alcoa employs 1,001 workers in Massena, 332 of them at the East plant. Of that number, 254 workers are in the union, and 95 to 100 of them qualify for early retirement, Mr. LaClair said.

Alcoa plants to which Massena employees could transfer are in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Washington. Those transferring would receive $15,000 plus $500 for each year of service, in addition to moving expenses.

The transfer incentive is not offered to Alcoa East workers who take a job at the West plant, but Local 420-A President Robert A. Smith said the intent behind offering the incentives to West employees is to create openings that could be filled by East employees.

One difference in the agreement for employees of Alcoa East versus Alcoa West is that eligible employees choosing to retire from the East plant will be credited two additional years of service toward the calculation of their pension benefits.

The agreement also calls for the creation of 25 apprenticeships at the Alcoa West plant, Mr. Ridgeway said.

Employees learned of the agreement in meetings with union leaders Thursday at the Massena Community Center. Some younger workers, visibly upset, left before an afternoon meeting ended and declined to comment. Veteran employees, who have more to gain from the buyouts, appeared satisfied.

“A lot of the details are still kind of fuzzy. They’re still working them out,” Keith Wenette said. “The numbers are still being worked out. They need more information on who is available for retirement packages.”

Employee Jeff Small, who has 25 years of service, sounded upbeat.

“I think the negotiating team did a heck of a job getting what they got for people,” he said. “I am more fortunate than others because I’ve had a lot of time. ... It’s a real good incentive for a guy like me to either leave or look for another job some place else.”

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.

Mr. 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.

“We were told a year or two ago the plan was to curtail these two potlines,” he said, adding that the falling price of aluminum on the global market expedited the process. “It just happened a year or two sooner than we had anticipated.”

Mr. Ridgeway praised the cooperation between Alcoa officials and the union.

“I’ve been involved with negotiations for over 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the spirit, unity and cooperation that I’ve seen here,” he said. “The company seems to really put a value on its people.”

Johnson Newspapers writer Victor Barbosa contributed to this report.

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