Ormet might have shut its doors last week, but the battle to keep the plant open is ongoing, with politicians on both sides of the river speaking out in favor of saving the jobs of 1,000 local men and women.
On Oct. 10, Ohio Senator Lou Gentile sent a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich, seeking clarification on comments made by Kasich's press secretary, Rob Nichols, regarding the closing of Ormet.
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register reported on Oct. 8 that Nichols cited "nearly half of Ormet's employees live in West Virginia, yet the Mountain State did not offer any financial support for the company."
"I found the comment surprising because I was not aware that it is the responsibility of neighboring states to keep jobs in Ohio," Gentile remarked in his letter.
"There is a growing concern among my constituents regarding our administration's apparent lack of commitment to eastern and southeastern Ohio. The loss of jobs at Ormet and the comments of your press secretary only reinforce that perception," he continued.
Gentile suggested that Nichols' comments perhaps reflect a policy of the Kasich administration depending on other states to retain Ohio jobs. "If that is the case, what might happen when a business that employs Ohioans in a neighboring state threatens to close? Will Ohio tax dollars be sent to Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana to keep jobs in Ohio?" Gentile questioned.
"I have heard you say on numerous occasions that Ohio is in competition with other states to attract jobs and businesses," Gentile continued. "However, the comments by your press secretary make it seem like Ohio is now dependent on neighboring states to keep jobs within our borders. I hope this is not the case because if it is, then more Ohio companies could suffer the same fate as Ormet."
"Why wasn't JobsOhio able to save these 1,000 jobs? This seems like the type of massive job loss that JobsOhio was supposed to prevent," Gentile said, referencing Ohio's economic development agency. The website for the agency, jobs-ohio.com, states that Ohio has captured the attention of CEOs as they "recognize that Ohio has emerged as one of the top job creators in the nation . . ." The site's front page urges to "discover the advantages of business in Ohio."
Without appearing to give an answer to Gentile's comments, Nichols retaliated by accusing the Ohio representative of "finger-pointing," and questioned Gentile's leadership skills.
In the meantime, in a joint letter to both Kasich and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Republican Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, along with Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, sought help for Ormet and its workers.
"Many of these employees reside on both sides of the Ohio River in Ohio and West Virginia, leaving Ormet as the leading private employer in the region," the members of Congress wrote. "A solution must be found that ensures that operations continue; businesses and residences are not put in jeopardy; but most importantly, the hardworking men and women of Ormet continue to have a job in these tough economic times."
"We cannot accept this announcement nor should anyone else; and would request a meeting with representatives from your offices, each state's economic development agencies, and Ormet's leadership team. Much is at stake for Ohio and West Virginia. We stand eager and ready to help," McKinley, Capito, and Johnson stated to Kasich and Tomblin.
"We share their concern for the workers and for the community, and would love to work with them to solve this problem," Nichols said in response to the letter.
Tomblin's office has yet to comment on the matter.
In the meantime, the United Steelworkers are calling upon Kasich to urge the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to assist in continued discussions with American Electric Power and Ormet and negotiate a resolution that will enable the plant to continue operations.
"We encourage Governor Kasich and his administration to insist that Ormet, PUCO, and AEP return to the table to resolve the issues, save our jobs, and protect these communities," said USW District 1 Director Dave McCall, as quoted in a press release on the USW's website.
McCall pointed out that the USW and secured creditors have worked with management to reduce the company's financial liabilities by almost $300 million and disputed the idea that saving thousands of family-supporting jobs at Ormet would increase costs for AEP's other ratepayers, as has been reported.
"Ormet's major request is not for subsidies, but rather to be free to purchase electricity from the grid at market price," McCall said. "Governor Kasich has been an outspoken proponent of a market-based approach, but AEP's intransigent and short-sighted behavior has made sustainable operations at Ormet impossible."
"AEP is a public utility which is accountable to the people of Ohio," McCall said, "but unless or until PUCO and AEP figure out a solution to the high cost of energy needed for production, the future of our jobs and communities will remain uncertain."
In another matter, Monroe County officials are working to offer displaced Ormet workers as many opportunities as possible.
To assist those now without work, sessions giving workers a chance to meet with representatives from trade schools, colleges, and other companies are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Oct. 22 and 29 at the United Steelworkers' hall in Clarington. A similar session for those who have been salaried will be held Oct. 28 at 9 a.m. at the Clarington fire hall.
Jeanette Harter, director of the Monroe County Department of Job and Family Services, said each session is designed to cover everything that a displaced worker needs to know regarding job training and opportunities, so it will be necessary for an employee to attend only one session. The information covered includes resume writing and other job searching techniques.
Meanwhile, Harter said dates and locations for transition centers to be set up to assist workers have not yet been scheduled.
Harter also mentioned a job fair is scheduled Oct. 23 in nearby Washington County, adding it had been planned before the announcement of Ormet's closure. Those attending are advised to be dressed for an interview and to have a current resume. Those needing help with free resume preparation may contact OhioMeansJobs-Washington County at 740-373-3745 for information.
Harter said the first hour of that job fair will be for veterans only, as many of the companies involved are interested in hiring former military personnel.