Workers at the Alcoa Intalco aluminum smelter west of Ferndale are now eligible for federal assistance if the plant is idled at the end of June.
The U.S. Department of Labor approved a petition for Trade Adjustment Assistance, indicating that the workers have been harmed by foreign trade. The decision will allow workers to apply for long-term career training, assistance with health care premium costs and income support. The income support would include providing wage subsidies for some workers who find work that pays less than their trade-impacted job, according to a news release from Gov. Jay Inslee.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance also was approved for the Alcoa Wenatchee smelter, which was curtailed in December.
This could help around 465 workers at the Ferndale smelter, which is scheduled to be idled because of a market glut of aluminum that has sent prices plummeting. The casthouse is scheduled to keep operating after the smelter is idled, employing about 100 people.
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This was a clear cut case where Alcoa workers deserve Trade Adjustment Assistance because the displacement is due to unfair Chinese oversupply and market manipulation.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina
Glenn Farmer, business representative for International Association of Machinists Local 2379 District 160, said he felt they had a good chance at getting the petition approved but was concerned about how long it would take. He said they received a lot of support from legislators, who wrote letters to the Department of Labor urging quick approval of the petition.
In a petition for the assistance program, union members wrote on the application that they believed China’s dumping of extra aluminum into the global market has left the U.S. aluminum industry unable to compete.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, co-chair of the Congressional Aluminum Caucus, has called for an investigation into the global market supply. She also sent a letter to the Department of Labor along with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., urging it to offer the trade adjustment help to Intalco workers.
“This was a clear cut case where Alcoa workers deserve Trade Adjustment Assistance because the displacement is due to unfair Chinese oversupply and market manipulation,” DelBene said in an email to The Bellingham Herald.
DelBene said they are currently holding several briefings to come up with possible next steps on addressing the market issues.
“I’m outraged by the unfair practices China is employing to manipulate the aluminum market and I will continue to fight for policies that support U.S. manufacturing jobs,” DelBene said. “We need to ensure there is a level playing field so U.S. manufacturers can compete in the global market.”
In a written statement, Alcoa spokesman Josh Wilund said the company was pleased the petition was approved, saying that it would “provide critical services and resources for employees impacted by the curtailments.”
In November Alcoa announced it was curtailing the smelter operations at Intalco at the end of March because of low aluminum prices. On Tuesday, Jan. 19, Alcoa decided to extend the operations of the Intalco smelter through the end of June because of lower energy and raw material costs.
Aluminum prices remain low but have been on the rise recently. The price for a ton of aluminum on the London Metal Exchange Tuesday, Feb. 2, was $1,519, up from around $1,450 in mid-January.