HANNIBAL - Forty-two workers left at the closed Ormet Corp. plant may soon lose their jobs, but United Steelworkers Local 5724 President Tom Byers maintains hope someone will step forward to re-fire the cold aluminum smelter that employed about 1,000 people in 2012.
"Our people want answers - they deserve answers," Byers said Monday. "We are hearing that someone has made a bid to purchase the plant. But that doesn't tell me much."
A Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice on file with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services shows Ormet could release the remaining 42 workers by July 31. The company issued a similar WARN notice last year that covered about 900 employees before shuttering the operation in October.
Photo by Casey Junkins
Tom Byers, president of United Steelworkers Local 5724 at Ormet Corp., reviews paperwork in his office.
"The people who are still in there are maintenance workers, security guards," Byers said. "By issuing the WARN notice, they have met their legal obligations to let people go."
In February, Ormet officials announced intentions to sell the entire facility the sits between the Ohio River and Ohio 7 in Monroe County. This was roughly one year after the company filed for bankruptcy amid a business environment that included falling aluminum prices.
Throughout spring and summer 2013, Ormet officials negotiated with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and AEP to try to reach an agreement that would allow the company to continue operating with coal-fired electricity until it could develop its own power from locally drawn Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas. Wayzata Investment Partners wanted to purchase the plant for $221 million. However, when the PUCO declined to lower Ormet's power costs as much as Ormet requested, the company began to shut down shortly thereafter.
In the following months, Ormet began selling off raw assets. The company sold alumina, which becomes aluminum during the smelting process, to Switzerland-based Trafigura for $281 per metric ton. The firm also sold 2.47 million pounds of copper rods to Libertas Copper for $7.6 million, while Ormet sold its former Burnside, La. alumina refinery to Almatis Inc. The company also sold carbon anodes to Pittsburgh-based aluminum giant Alcoa Inc.
Nevertheless, Byers said these actions do not necessarily mean no more aluminum sows will leave the Hannibal Reduction Facility.
"It's tough when you sell off raw material like that, but that can be replaced," Byers said.
Byers said as far as he knows, Judge Mary Walrath of the U.S. District Bankruptcy Court in Delaware will have to approve any potential sale of the plant.
"We are waiting to hear any day," he said. "It remains to be seen what our next employer would do. We don't know if it's a scrapper or someone who intends to run the plant."
In the meantime, Byers said displaced workers continue receiving assistance from both the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and local charities. He said there will be a toiletries and household goods distribution for workers from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 30. There will also be representatives to assist workers and retirees with questions regarding pensions.
"Our people did nothing wrong. This was all way beyond our control," Byers added of the plant's closure.