The effects of Saturday's Ormet rally will perhaps begin to be known tomorrow when the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio rules as to whether or not Ormet's electricity payments for August and September can be deferred. This does not affect the main matter at hand - a request to purchase power at market rates - yet a deferral for two months worth of payments would perhaps serve as an answer as to whether or not the voices of an estimated 300 people gathered at Saturday's rally were heard.
Ormet has made its plea with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. PUCO's next meeting regarding the purchase of power at market rates was scheduled for Aug. 27. However, Jason Gilham from PUCO alerted the Chronicle Tuesday that PUCO had added Ormet to its agenda for today, when they will decide whether or not Ormet can defer the payments for August and September.
The largest issue at hand still deals with the fact that American Electric Power (AEP) could raise Ormet's bill to $62.83 per megawatt hour. In a 2009 power agreement with Ormet, the cost was $39.66 per megawatt hour. Dave McCall, United Steelworkers District 1 Director, said this lower rate is about the current market price. Unless Ormet is allowed to buy power off the grid at market rates, it will be forced to shutdown. McCall stated that a shutdown would not affect only economic security or the community, but it would affect long-term security for the next generation. "If we don't make aluminum for the military or consumer needs, who will? . . . It'll come from China."
Donnie Blatt stated that the plant was in for another fight, yet this time the union was fighting together with the company. (Photo by Lauren Riggs)
Tom Byers, the United Steelworkers Local 5724 president, said AEP's rate has increased 46 percent over a four-year period. "If the current power agreement is not changed by the PUCO, Ormet will shut down . . . A temporary reduced power rate would allow Ormet to construct a gas-fired power plant, providing on-site power generation."
Donnie Blatt, United Steelworkers District 1 Rapid Rapid Response Coordinator, told ralliers they were all in for another fight. Blatt referenced previous times when Ormet's union workers had fought against the company for a fair contract. "1999 was one of the better fights to get a fair contract," he stated. "In 2004, I thought there was no way . . ." Blatt emphasized that Ormet was no stranger to a fight, yet he noted that this time, the fight is a bit different. "We are fighting together with the company."
Ohio State Senator Lou Gentile (D-Steubenville) reassured workers and their families that he and Ohio Representative Jack Cera would make sure "people are hearing your voices loud and clear." Gentile said his own father was a steelworker. He told the workers and their families that as they "wait and wonder and stand strong," to remember that "you will not go at this alone; you have people standing with you for this region. Your jobs, your families are worth saving."
Gentile stressed the importance of Ormet jobs, saying that the region needs good manufacturing jobs. "We are making sure the Kasich administration and the state understands what is at stake here," he said.
Gentile also expressed frustration at the fact that Ormet workers are waiting, working hard, and taking care of their friends and families, yet there are other companies in the state who have received taxpayer dollars. "You are no less deserving," he stated firmly. "We are going to do all we can to save these jobs. We will continue to see this through."
Ohio State Representative Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) followed Gentile, stating that he was there to "stand here to fight for some of the best jobs in the area." Cera added: "When I came here, Lou and I talked and thought we shouldn't be too mean, but looking at you, looking at the families who will be affected . . . I think maybe we shouldn't be too nice. There's a time to be nice and there's a time to fight for what you believe in."
Wetzel County Commissioners were also present at Saturday's rally. Commission Vice President Bob Gorby expressed concern over the effect that shutdown would have on Wetzel County. "One-fourth of the people who work at Ormet reside in Wetzel County," he noted. "A shutdown is going to have a dramatic effect."
"We are doing all we can do," Commission President Don Mason stated. "We have no jurisdiction or legislation, but we can be here in support and talk to legislatures." He added: "If this plant shuts down, it'd be a disaster for the economy."
Commissioner Larry Lemon spoke at the rally, telling Ormet's workforce and their families, "you don't deserve this."
"You find ourself in a situation where you've got to fight," Lemon added. "Quitting isn't in your vocabulary, so keep fighting."
Lemon read a letter from United States Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). Rockefeller wrote, "Ormet may be in the State of Ohio, but many West Virginians work here and their livelihood depends on these jobs. Ohio's fight, is our fight and we must take a stand to keep this plant open."
Rockefeller noted, "Aluminum manufacturing is one of the most energy-intensive industries in the world, and as a result, electricity costs account for a disproportionate share of the industry's cost structure."
He added, "The impact of a potential closure would be felt across both Ohio and West Virginia and within AEP's commercial and residential customers throughout the region . . ."
The office of United States Senator Joe Manchin sent the following statement to the Chronicle's office: "We need to do everything in our power to keep these jobs in the Ohio Valley. I encourage business, labor, and government leaders to come together and find a solution that will protect these jobs, while also ensuring that electricity is affordable for our manufacturing base. My office stands ready to assist our West Virginia employees to make sure they have the assistance they need moving forward."
Monroe County Commissioner Carl Davis said Saturday he was glad that the rally had a nice turnout. "We need to support Ormet in its endeavors to get a break on utility costs. I don't think there's anyone who doesn't have a family member who has worked there." Davis agreed with Wetzel County Commissioners in that a shutdown would be "devastating." "Our school system is already in a crisis," he stated. "Losing a tax basis would add to the crisis. We do hope PUCO rules in Ormet's favor."
Switzerland of Ohio School District's treasurer, Lance Erlwein spoke of the school system's struggles and how the plant's closure would add further devastation. Erlwein said the closure of the plant would mean a direct loss of $110,000 in property tax revenue that is given to the school. "This is going to set back the community 50 years or maybe even 100 years," Erlwein stated. "As Ormet goes, so goes the community."
Lou Gentile told the Wetzel Chronicle that he was there to show his support for the 1,000 employees of Ormet, the families of Ormet employees, as well as the area school district. Gentile stated he was working with Representative Cera to make sure Kasich understood the importance of keeping Ormet open. "All of the energy of my office is going to this," he stated. "We are asking for short-term relief to help the company emerge from bankruptcy . . . time is of the essence. Today is about saying these are really important jobs."
West Virginia Delegate Dave Pethtel (D-Wetzel) read a letter at Saturday's rally signed by West Virginia Senator President Jeffrey Kessler, West Virginia State Senator Larry J. Edgell (D-Wetzel), and himself. "At present, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is in possession of a request from Ormet Primary Aluminum corporation to request that PUCO approve, in a very time sensitive manner, the emergency relief and non-emergency relief from the 'unique arrangement' with the Ohio Power," the letter stated.
The letter further stated that "permitting the PUCO to act expeditiously will allow Ormet to emerge from bankruptcy and will avoid a potential shutdown of the Ormet facility, which is critical to the economy of both of our states and the families who reside there."
The letter stated that when Ormet is in full operation capacity, with an estimated 1,000 employees, it provides the area with an approximate regional financial impact of $238 million per year.
"As a representative of the citizens of West Virginia who will be severely affected by a tentative rate increase of electrical costs at the Ormet Primary Aluminum Corporation, I respectively ask that you intervene and assist in the ruling to grant Ormet emergency relief," the letter stated.
Jackie Stewart, from the office of Congressman Bill Johnson of Ohio, read a letter from the Congressman to the United Steel Workers Local 5724, family and friends.
Johnson also cited Ormet's plans to build a 500 MW natural gas power generation plant near the plant. Johnson said with these plans, "we have a win-win-win for the county, the state, and all ratepayers involved."
"It's a win-win-win, because it will allow Ormet to compete in a global business that often times has competitors subsidized by their host foreign governments. The Ormet plan will allow the natural resources being harvest in southeastern Ohio to go to work right here in our own backyard, while permanently solving the rate issue. And most importantly, it will continue to fund the schools in Monroe County, and keep a thousand men and women working and supporting their families."
Johnson stated he had already spoken with Chairman Snitchler's office at PUCO, "and have again expressed my support for Ormet's plan." Johnson said he asked PUCO to remember the thousands of families that are "counting on them to make the right decision." Johnson said he would "not accept anything less than a positive outcome."