Century Aluminum agrees to retiree health benefits settlement

By JESS MANCINI

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va.  — An agreement to cover health care benefits has been a long time coming for Karen Gorrell and retirees of the closed Century Aluminum in Ravenswood.

Almost six years to the day, on Feb. 19, 2011, Gorrell organized a meeting of the retirees at the steelworkers union hall in Ravenswood about recovering the discontinued benefits they said they were entitled to from the company.

“That was the beginning,” she said on Monday.

Gorrell, whose husband, Mike, is a retiree from the plant, is the public face of the fight to regain the benefits. Since 2011, Gorrell has given numerous interviews, challenged elected representatives to meet face-to-face with the retirees to tell them what they plan to do and appeared before the board of Century Aluminum, meeting executives she liked and some she didn’t.

“We’ve been all over the place,” she said.

At 10:30 a.m. today at the union hall, Gorrell and the retirees will tell their story and talk about the agreement.

Century agreed to an aggregate amount of $23 million over 10 years, payable in installments with $5 million payable upon final approval by the court of the settlement agreement and $2 million a year for nine years. Court approval of the agreement is not expected before the third quarter of this year, the company said.

“We are pleased to have reached this milestone,” said Michael Bless, Century president and chief executive officer. “By settling this litigation, we are eliminating a risk for our shareholders while providing a benefit for a group of extraordinary people, many of whom dedicated their professional lives to the safe and efficient operation of the plant.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to get to know many of them personally,”he said. “We are also appreciative of the union’s leadership and commitment to reach a rational solution.”

The agreement was announced on Friday by the United Steelworkers.

“This settlement is a testament to the solidarity and hard work of USW retirees who never gave up trying to win back benefits earned over a lifetime of hard work,” International Vice President Tom Conway said. “This would not have happened without the retirees who made their voices heard and the union that stood behind them during a long and difficult struggle.”

The settlement papers were filed on Thursday.

Upon approval of the court, Century Aluminum will pay $23 million into a trust fund for reimbursement of some the medical costs of some past retirees and help with future costs.

About 750 retirees and dependents are involved.

Employees began receiving medical insurance benefits in 1959 from the former Kaiser Aluminum, which continued through several owners until Century began to eliminate them in 2010.

The company closed the plant in February 2009 during the recession and in January 2010 discontinued health care coverage for retirees who were Medicare-eligible. Coverage for younger retirees was discontinued in 2011.

The plant permanently closed in 2015 and the property was sold in January to New Jersey-based Applied Partners Inc. Applied Partners plans to raze the building and prepare the property for future development.

Lawsuits were filed to reinstate the benefits in the U.S. District Court for Southern West Virginia.

Bless cited the support from elected leaders in this process, including U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“Karen Gorrell led these efforts from day one on behalf of these retirees,”Manchin said.

The announcement was “tremendous news” for the retirees and families, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said on Monday.

“These men and women dedicated years of service to Century and to Jackson County, and they deserve nothing but the utmost respect from the company,” he said. “I am grateful the company will honor their commitment.”

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