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Century Aluminum retirees stump for Tomblin

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fifteen retired Century Aluminum workers and their wives stood on Kanawha Boulevard outside the state Capitol on Monday morning, holding signs urging people to vote for state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Tomblin, a Logan County Democrat who is acting as governor, faces Republican businessman Bill Maloney, Mountain Party nominee Bob Henry Baber and several others in the special election scheduled for Oct. 4. Early voting begins Wednesday.

Karen Gorrell, whose husband Mike worked at the Ravenswood aluminum plant for 33 years, said, "Some campaign ads say Earl Ray Tomblin doesn't care about seniors.

"We are seniors and we know he cares about us. We are making calls and pushing people to vote for him."

Mike Gorrell, now 64, was promised continuing health benefits when he retired at 59. He and other retirees gave a portion of their paychecks for every hour they worked to insure health care after they retired.

When Century closed its aluminum smelting plant in Ravenswood on Feb. 15, 2009, it laid off 651 workers. At the time, Century promised to continue health benefits to "early retirees," workers who retired between 55 and 65, and to workers already retired.

This year, on January 1, Century cut off all health coverage for early retirees, agreeing to pay them Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act premiums for six months.

Ongoing efforts by retirees and their union, the United Steelworkers, failed to reverse Century's decision in federal court.

Century is suggesting their Ravenswood plant might reopen, Gorrell said.

"We are confident Tomblin will be in the conversation if Century Aluminum re-opens the plant," she said.

Tomblin previously said that if talks about reopening the plant resume, he will urge the company to reconsider its decision to take away retiree health care benefits.

On Monday, Tomblin said, "I appreciate the confidence of the Century employees and retirees, and will continue to work with all sides to ensure they receive the benefits they deserve."

Maloney campaign officials did not return email and telephone messages Monday.

John Morris, who retired from Century Aluminum in 2002, praised Tomblin for saying "any negotiations involving state government will have to include retirees. He did that for us. So we are out here trying to get people to vote for him." Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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