One of the biggest business news stories to unfold last year was Century Aluminum’s attempt to set up a special rate plan to restart its Ravenswood plant. The PSC denied that plan last October, issuing its own, which the company said would not allow it to restart. The saga involved a lot of drama early on last year, when the company finally brokered an agreement to restore some health care benefits to its retirees. However, that plan was contingent upon the company restarting the plant.
Fast forward to this year, and the company has purchased another (newer) plant in Kentucky and barely mentioned the Ravenswood site on its most recent quarterly earnings conference call.
The whole affair has strained the will of those retirees, who thought they were going to get their health care back. Frustrated, retiree spokeswoman Karen Gorrell forwarded an e-mail along to the media yesterday describing how the retirees feel today.
Here’s the letter in its entirety:
As the spokeswoman for the Century Aluminum retirees, we find ourselves a little bewildered by the recent turn of events. It is hard to clarify where Century truly stands on any issues including their obligation to retirees for lifetime health care benefits. If my memory serves me correctly, in 2011, Century was working hard to get their tax bill reduced in Jackson county and some of the retirees sat in on the meeting with the Jackson county commission. Century’s experts were describing the current condition of the aging Jackson county plant and what a state of disarray the plant was in, in so many words. In 2012, the retirees also got to sit in on the PSC hearings in Charleston West Virginia where Century was seeking a major break on their power bill and it seemed the story was that the plant had been well maintained and could be operational for years to come, well worth investing millions in to it’s future. Stories seem a little conflicting to me but I’m just a grandma and maybe I misunderstood. I’m a little hard hearing these days too!
Then comes their obligation to retirees. In 2010, Century argued in the courts that they never promised us lifetime benefits and should not be required to pay them. Fought us tooth and toenail to keep from paying us what they promised us. It appears these retirees were really not too intelligent over the years. They gave up take home pay and even sacrificed other benefits to be guaranteed health care when they retired! What were they thinking? Surely didn’t think a promise made in West Virginia is a promise kept did they? What we have trouble understanding is how a corporation or bank or any entity can take your money for years for a specific product and after contributing for decades to have that product, they just walk away with the product and don’t even want to give you your money back! Can’t help but wonder what other business could get by with that practice…….not too many I hope. Or, maybe we just misunderstood that the money set aside for retiree health care could have been in the take home pay! Silly us.
Anyway, back to our bewilderment. After all that fighting and arguing around and after the retirees camped out at the entrance to the plant for 78 days in the middle of winter, Century’s new president of North American operations comes to our camp site and introduces himself. Told the guys a great story about how his dad lost his benefits with Kaiser and how his dad cursed them until the day he died, and that he understood their anger. Seems he wanted to help us get those benefits back. Century’s “new leadership team” couldn’t have been any nicer to us ole retirees then, even brought us concrete barriers to keep the semis from running over us in the busy intersection! They were really concerned about our well being it seems….at least then. One of them even sent up a great big jug of whiskey for the fellows…maybe thought it would make us feel better about them stealing our health care, but it didn’t. Low and behold, they even offered a retiree forty dollars to buy another jug and he politely returned it and said he wasn’t for sale! Us ole West Virginia hillbilly retirees are kind of like that you know, integrity over money any day. After all, wasn’t his whiskey we needed, it was the right to retire with the dignity they promised and the ability to seek health care when needed. Seemed that hand of friendship just couldn’t be big enough when they needed the retirees to make a deal with them. Not every day a bunch of old folks, grandmas and grandpas, find a way to stand between corporate America and 60 million dollars a year. Thanks to a great bunch of West Virginia leaders and an awesome Governor, that’s exactly where we found ourselves! Seems we were Century’s new best friend….at least then. That VP guy wanted to meet with the retirees, said he didn’t care then whether our attorney was present or not, wanted to talk about a settlement agreement. Guess the WV Legislature was waiting for the word that Century was going to live up to it’s promise to it’s retirees before handing out any of our tax dollars. That was more than an incredible thing, the way our elected officials stood by us! Still brings tears to our eyes when we talk about it. Just love them folks!
Anyways, the committee agreed to meet with the corporate attorney and the attorney that presented Century’s case in Charleston and some other folks in Pittsburgh. Imagine that, grandma and grandpa sitting down at the big table with the big boys! Surely they wouldn’t take advantage of our lack of experience and our sincere desire to see them get the plant open and take care of the retirees and get the laid off guys back to work. We are kind of silly like that. Had a fairy tale dream about all the good that could come if that plant was running. Even though we should have shot them, we found ourselves truly wanting to help Century succeed. When Mr. Bless told us “Century did have blood on their hands and they didn’t want anymore”, we thought he was genuine and sincere….at least then. Since there was 60 million dollars at stake, those big boys probably knew it wouldn’t be good to try and tell us they didn’t promise us lifetime benefits, so the conversation went quite differently. All of us were in total disbelief when they acknowledged they were lifetime benefits and indicated they understood why we wanted them….at least then. Retirees finally agreed to take a big sacrifice compared to what they actually owed us, to make sure the deal came together and the fairy tale dream could come true! We would never have wanted to be held responsible for the plant not reopening and that was a risk too big to take at others expense. Everyone in the state was elated….at least then.
That brings us to the current episode of Century Aluminum and the Retirees. Guess now they have decided that they were only kidding and they really don’t owe us those benefits. Seems in their opinion, after working at that plant for 30 or 40 years, all the retirees were just confused about what they thought. Those Century fellers used to call us quite regularly, seeking our support in their efforts, and of course, being the dummies we are, we obliged as far as we could. Couldn’t go along with the rate payers picking up their tab though….that was just not right in our eyes…but what did we know…we thought we had lifetime benefits too! Now, I guess that Sebree has greener pastures than our great ole state of West Virginia, the phones don’t ring anymore from the big boys…..only attorneys wanting depositions……..didn’t even mention us in the conference call until they were asked. Sad but true, how time changes things. Thought about asking them for all that money we spent for gasoline running around for them but decided we really didn’t want it……rather have what they promised……a chance to live the rest of our lives with dignity….a chance to spend a little time watching our grandbabies grow up. Never wanted their big multi million dollar salaries…..just what we earned and paid for. Seems in corporate America…..that is too much to ask…..that is now.
Bewildered and Betrayed,