CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A health-care agreement between Century Aluminum and retirees "paves the way" to reopen the Ravenswood plant that closed three years ago and laid off more than 650 workers, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Wednesday evening.
After months of public protests and prolonged negotiations, Century Aluminum agreed to restore health benefits to its retirees. Those benefits were promised under contracts that Century had signed with the United Steelworkers of America.
After reaching a deal with the retirees on Wednesday, Century is planning to reopen its plant on the Ohio River in the near future, probably hiring about 450 workers initially.
When Century shut down its Ravenswood operations on Feb. 15, 2009, the company laid off 651 workers.
Rockefeller called the deal "fantastic news" in a statement released Wednesday evening.
"This is fantastic news -- for the company, for its retirees, and for the Ravenswood community. We all had a shared goal -- reopening the Ravenswood plant and doing so in a way that provided health care to Century retirees," Rockefeller said.
"Today, that goal is one-step closer to being realized because the company and the retirees found common ground for the future of West Virginia."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin repeatedly said that if Century hoped to get any special economic benefits from state government to help reopen the plant, the company would have to restore health benefits to its retired workers.
Rockefeller said, "From the beginning, I've said that we'd leave no stone unturned in trying to reopen the plant and make sure that the active workers and retirees are given a fair shake.
"Throughout the negotiations, I have continued to work with all parties so that we could make this happen."
Karen Gorrell helped organize retiree protests and legislative lobbying efforts to restore health coverage benefits. Her husband, Michael, now 64, worked at the Ravenswood smelting plant for 33 years.