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Alcoa shutting down one potline at Massena East plant

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MASSENA - Alcoa officials confirmed early this afternoon that they will be permanently shutting down one of three potlines currently in operation at the East Plant.

The company had announced it May it planned to curtail an additional 460,000 metric tons of smelting capacity over the next 15 months on top of the 568,000 metric tons that had previously been idled in response to 33 percent drop in aluminum prices.

The shutdown will reduce capacity at the Massena plant by 40,000 metric tons. “Our plan is to have the line out by the end of September. Appropriate steps will be taken to do it safely and carefully,” Alcoa spokesperson Laurie Marr said, adding the company is also hoping to minimize the impact on the 100 or so affected employees.

“We do not anticipate any layoffs at this time,” she said. “We need to work out details with the union. We haven’t started those discussions yet, but our plan it to minimize the impact on our employees.”

Local 450 President David W. LaClair said Wednesday’s announcement has been expected for sometime and may not necesarrily be a bad thing.

“We’ve seen this coming,” he said. “I’ve known for a few days, but I didn’t know exactly what was happening until 11:30 this morning.”

Mr. LaClair said he was optimistic that layoffs can be avoided.

“We will put any option possible on the table to avoid layoffs,” he said. “If we can accomplish this with no layoffs that’s a positive step.”

Over the past several weeks, Mr. LaClair said that moral at the plant has been low as many different rumors were circulating around the plant.

“There has been rumors for some time,” he said. “So at least now we have path we know they’re going down instead of all the uncertainity that has been out there for the past several months.”

Mr. LaClair said the two remaining potlines at the East Plant leave that plant with 80,000 metric tons of smelting capacity. Ms. Marr said the West Plant has only one potline, however that line produces 130,000 metric tons of aluminum per year.

Alcoa had last shut down its potlines in May 2009 as part of a plan to idle the smelter until market conditions for aluminum improved. Planned layoffs began in mid-July 2009.

As a condition of a deal struck between Alcoa and the New York Power Authority at the time, the aluminum company was required to keep at least 250 workers at the east plant for the duration of the shutdown, as well as roughly 680 workers at Massena West, where production continues.

Ms Marr said there are roughly 360 workers currently employed at the East plant and approximately 700 working at the West plant.

Mr. LaClair said the closing of potlines was something that was bound to happen as the company moves forward with its modernization project.

“When the modernization happens, as they bring on new potlines, they shut down the old ones,” he said. “So as long as the process keeps moving forward this would have happened when the new pots came online.”

When the potlines were idled in May 2009, workers removed the molten aluminum from the bottom of each of the facility’s 508 pots. They also gathered hardened pieces of a material called “bath”- a key ingredient in the production of aluminum.

On Jan. 7, 2011, Alcoa announced all 95 employees who were laid off from the plant when it was idled in 2009 were being called back and that 20 to 30 additional employees on top of that would also be hired.

That was the first time in the history of the former Reynolds facility that all of the aluminum pot lines were shut down, Mr. LaClair said. When the plant was idled in 1993 and 2002, only portions of it shut down.

Mr. LaClair said he recognizes the closure of one potline will save the company money, and as long as no employees lose their jobs, he called the decision “positive for everybody.”

“As long as they’re moving forward and we can keep everybody employed, that’s positive for everybody,” he said.

Ryne Martin contributed to this report.

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