Laid-off Steel Workers Appeal to Gov. Kasich
CLARINGTON – The hundreds of laid off workers, retirees, spouses and United Steelworkers officials on hand Tuesday at the Ormet USW Local No. 5724 office in Clarington believe Ohio Gov. John Kasich has the power to help get the bankrupt aluminum maker up and running again.
“This is just such a bad situation,” said Monroe County resident Eileen Cline, wife of retired Ormet employee David Cline. “Everyone in this county needs to get involved. This is pretty much all we have here.”
“Our union, Ormet management and creditors worked together in the bankruptcy proceedings to reduce the company’s financial liabilities by nearly $300 million,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard in kicking off the “Save Ohio Jobs” rally. “It’s time for the governor to make sure (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio) and American Electric Power do their parts as well.”
Ormet CEO Mike Tanchuk announced the full shutdown of Ormet’s Hannibal smelter Oct. 4, after the PUCO failed to lower Ormet’s American Electric Power costs from $60 to down to $45.89 per megawatt-hour as Ormet requested.
Ormet and USW officials maintain that Kasich has the ability to force the PUCO to act to help Ormet, but Kasich Spokesman Rob Nichols said this is not the case.
According to the PUCO website, the five commissioners are appointed by the governor, but only one seat opens each year. The governor selects from names submitted by a 12-member nominating council.
Despite the comments Tuesday, Nichols said the governor is not responsible for nearly 1,000 Ormet employees being out of work – emphasizing that anyone who suggests this is merely playing politics.
“The fact that all of this was directed at Ohio’s governor, and not at West Virginia’s Democrat governor (Earl Ray Tomblin), speaks to the political motivation,” Nichols said. “After all, about 50 percent of Ormet employees live in West Virginia.”
“If (Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville) and (Ohio Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire) want us to tell the PUCO what to do, then they should introduce a bill to place the PUCO under our direct control,” Nichols said, though neither Gentile nor Cera attended the Tuesday rally.
“I would be willing to introduce that bill. I am not happy with the PUCO,” Cera said late Tuesday. “We need to find a way to make sure we have competitive electricity rates to help manufacturing.”
“Gov. Kasich has never expressed a willingness to save these jobs,” Gentile said. “It is irresponsible for Gov. Kasich and his administration to continue blaming another state that has no authority in the matter.”
Nichols emphasized Kasich’s office is working with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to help displaced Ormet workers receive new job training and benefits.
Former Ohio Rep. Jennifer Garrison, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, next year, was on hand Tuesday.
“We should expect our governor to say more than, ‘It’s not our fault,'” she said of Kasich. “If you want to be the ‘jobs governor,’ prove it.”
Though Johnson did not immediately return calls seeking comment, he previously said, “Ormet has a strong, viable plan to produce its own energy from the natural gas production that we are seeing in eastern and southeastern Ohio – if only they had the support to get to that point.”
Johnson spoke of the plan that would have eventually seen Ormet become self-sufficient by using natural gas produced from its own land to run its potlines. However, Wayzata Investment Partners wanted a short-term agreement to pay reduced AEP rates until this natural gas-fired generator could be online before it would pay $221 million to purchase Ormet out of bankruptcy.
Nichols defended the PUCO’s decision, stating the agency has granted Ormet about $300 million worth of power rate discounts since 2009.
Also Tuesday, USW Local No. 5724 President Tom Byers confirmed that all displaced workers have lost their health care coverage.
The 37 employees who remain at the plant during its shutdown phase maintain their health care while they are working.
There had been some confusion because a letter mailed to laid off workers on Oct. 23 states, ” … it is anticipated that health care coverage for inactive employees will be terminated on Oct. 25.”
Officials with the Monroe County Ohio Means Jobs office are not sure what this means, so they tried to contact Ormet for an explanation.
However, the company has yet to provide more information.