Despite a letter union leaders sent to Alcoa asking to halt plans to demolish the Intalco smelter, the aluminum company says it has no plans to demolish the Ferndale plant right now. However, a union representative says activity at the smelter shows otherwise.
In a January 18 letter to Alcoa president and CEO Roy Harvey, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) international president Robert Martinez Jr. asked the Pittsburgh-based company to stop its planned demolition of the Intalco smelter.
Martinez also wrote that IAMAW’s advocacy helped ensure Congress supported aluminum producers in the Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law in August 2022, and could help the Ferndale plant reopen. President Joe Biden and governor Jay Inslee were sent the letter.
Alcoa spokesperson Jim Beck said in an email to The Northern Light that Alcoa was evaluating its options for the curtailed smelter.
“Decisions regarding the future of curtailed sites are based on a variety of factors, including global economic conditions, market pricing, energy prices, capital requirements, and the prospects for long-term, sustainable competitiveness,” Beck said. “Alcoa seeks viable opportunities for all its curtailed or closed sites to be returned to productive and sustainable use.”
Union representatives and others invested in the facility’s revitalization have been thrown into a tug-of-war of potential buyers and energy agreements since the smelter closed in 2020. Alcoa laid off nearly 700 employees after low aluminum prices made the operation uneconomic. New York City-based private equity firm Blue Wolf Capital Partners LLC began negotiations with Bonneville Power Administration in July 2021, but Blue Wolf exited the project in December after failing to reach a power agreement with BPA.
The power agreement had been considered the last major hurdle after Blue Wolf had reached an agreement with Alcoa and union workers. The state budget has $10 million secured until June 2025 to help reopen the smelter and add environmental improvements.
While Alcoa has not announced it will permanently close the smelter, local union representative Luke Ackerson said the workers are concerned that activity at the smelter points to an impending announcement.
Alcoa has told the union’s 12 remaining workers, who maintain the equipment and facility in case of a restart, to disassemble and prepare to ship at least one essential equipment piece for smelting metal. Ackerson said Alcoa was only preparing to ship the equipment and had not made a decision on whether they would ship it.
“This is a big shift from Alcoa’s previous activities that involved removing non-essential items from the facility,” he said. “We see it as a sign that they are preparing to announce the permanent closure and demolition of the facility.”
New investors, who Ackerson declined to name, are interested in purchasing the smelter but need more time to determine if purchasing the plant is feasible. Alcoa has upcoming critical deadlines with suppliers and other partners that will end this year. “If that happens, the likelihood of restarting the smelter is very unlikely,” Ackerson said.
Martinez asked that the union and Intalco meet with Harvey to discuss a plan to restart the smelter in the January 18 letter. Harvey responded to the letter on January 27 and said Alcoa would contact union representatives for a meeting, but had not scheduled a meeting as of January 30, Ackerson said.
“I believe it is a good sign that Alcoa has agreed to meet with the union,” he said. “I am hopeful that we can have a productive meeting.”
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