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Ormet Issue Keeps Its Drive

February 26, 2014
BY LAUREN MATTHEWS - Staff Writer ( , Wetzel Chronicle

Despite the curtailment of operations at its Hannibal plant in October 2013, the members of Ormet have stuck together to fight for their jobs back, as well as support one another in times of need.

This solidarity was shown Friday and Saturday at the United Steelworkers Local 5724 headquarters in Clarington, Ohio. That day, over 162 families took advantage of a food bank, and over 50 different families took advantage of free tax services and health insurance presentations.

Lori Bookwood of United Steelworkers reported that although 162 families signed up for the food bank, this figure does not include walk-ins during the two days the bank was available. "We brought in four different individuals who were able to do our members' taxes for free as well as individuals with Affordable Care Act to sign our members up for health insurance," she noted. Bookwood stated that one individual who has been without health insurance "for months now" has health insurance for $47 a month. "Get Covered America came and did a presentation explaining to our members what the ACA is and after that we had many members walk out with health insurance."

Bookwood added that the "International provided help from our Steelworker Pension Trust department to answer questions for our members as well as individuals from the PBGC."

Bookwood thanked United Way who made a delivery of "breads, pastries, cakes, and more."

Also, on Feb. 23, Ed FitzGerald, Democrat candidate for Ohio governor, stopped at the closed aluminum smelter. FitzGerald said no matter where he goes across Ohio, he cites the recent closure of Ormet as an example of why voters should elect him over Republican Governor John Kasich this year.

"Every part of Ohio I go to-and I have been in all 88 counties-I talk about Ormet," FitzGerald stated Sunday. "This is a crisis down here for this part of Ohio," he stated.

FitzGerald serves as the executive of Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland in northeastern Ohio. He and running mate Sharen Neuhardt are considered the likely opponents of Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor in the November general election.

FitzGerald has one opponent in the May Democrat primary-Larry Ealy of Dayton and running mate Ken Gray.

Ormet closed in October following a decision by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that did not reduce the company's American Electric Power bills by as much as Ormet officials requested.

During a December 2013 interview with Ormet's Union Rapid Response Coordinator David Cain and Local Union 5724 President Tom Byers, details on this agreement were given. Cain stated that Ormet approached the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and requested a "rate that they could run with . . . Ormet put their best foot forward and requested $45.89, and they also asked PUCO to back a contract with American Electric Power from 2018 to 2015." The backing of this contract would have given Ormet one and one half years to build a natural-gas powered power plant to provide Ormet with electricity. Cain had stated the power plant would take 400 to 500 construction workers to build and would create 100 good-paying jobs.

Byers had stated that a lot of Ormet's troubles had stemmed from the 2009 electric contract with AEP, adding "An Ormet official had stated at the time that if the price of aluminum tanks for a long period of time, we are going to have major problems with this contract."

However, Byers had added, "But really, what other choice did they have? Shut the plant down while the aluminum prices are high, or get a power agreement, the only one offered to them? This was the only choice they had. Run the place or shut it down."

Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf responded to FitzGerald's remarks by calling him "just a political opportunist." Schrimpf stated that Fitzgerald would put PUCO under direct control over the governor's office, which would make Ohio possibly the only state who does not have an independent public utilities commission.

However, during his remarks on Sunday, FitzGerald disputed previous claims by Kasich Press Secretary Rob Nichols that the governor has no direct authority over the PUCO to encourage its members to reconsider a ruling.

"The governor appoints members to the PUCO. When you appoint the members of the board, they tend to listen to you," he said.

Legislative-wise, Ohio Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, is hoping to change Kasich's relationship with PUCO through legislation he introduced in the Ohio House that would allow the governor to override the PUCO in certain cases, such as Ormet's dispute with AEP.

Meanwhile, FitzGerald also questioned why Kasich has not gone to Ormet, or anywhere in Monroe County, since the October closure.

"I gave him a long time to get down here," FitzGerald said of Kasich. "It's not political. It's your job. The governor has the power to get people together."

When Wayzata Investment Partners offered $221 million for Ormet last year, part of the new business plan involved eventually powering the aluminum smelter plant with natural gas.

FitzGerald said Ormet should have the opportunity to purchase electricity at "market rate" before building the natural gas power center.

In another related matter, last week, The Wheeling Intelligencer announced that Ormet Corporation announced that its smelter plant and surrounding property-including land on which natural gas currently is being produced-is up for sale. Calibre Group, the company's investment bank, already has begun to reach out to prospective purchasers and investors.

The company's assets include the ability to restart each of its close smelter's six potlines independently, as well as expected natural gas royalties from adjacent land. The company possesses an annual capacity of 270,000 metric tons of aluminum, and currently, Magnum Hunter Resources is pumping about 11.7 million cubic feet of natural gas daily from Ormet property directly across Ohio 7 from the Hannibal plant.

"The outlook for aluminum demand is strong, driven by increased use in automobiles, changing demographics in the developing world and a robust aerospace industry," Ormet officials said.

"We are hopeful that a buyer will step forward with a plan to restart operations so that the Ohio Valley men and women who have dedicated their lives and careers to Ormet can get back to their jobs," USW spokesman Tony Montana said.



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