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Constellium pleased with union agreement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Constellium Rolled Products executives on Thursday welcomed union workers' decision to accept a new five-year contract offer at the company's aluminum plant in Ravenswood.

In a secret ballot conducted Wednesday, members of United Steelworkers of America Local 5668 voted to approve the new contract. Constellium officials had said the contract would be its last offer to the workers, who had been on strike since Aug. 5.

Constellium employs about 1,000 people at its Ravenswood plant, 700 of whom are union members.

Many of the company's other 300 employees worked during the strike to produce some aluminum products, which were shipped out in tractor-trailers throughout the work stoppage.

In a statement released Thursday morning, Constellium said the new contract gives union employees 2.5 percent pay raises each year of the contract, plus an immediate $7,500 bonus for ratifying the contract.

The contract makes some cuts to health benefits, including a transition to a plan in 2013 that will pay for 95 percent of families' eligible charges.

Employees themselves will not pay for health-care premiums until 2017, and those rates still will be significantly less than half the national average for health-care insurance, according to the company's statement. Family health coverage still will cost only $17.31 per week.

Kyle Lorentzen, CEO at Constellium's Ravenswood plant, said, "We believe the new contract provides a solid foundation on which we can continue to build Ravenswood's future.

"This five-year agreement provides employees with generous pay increases, families with affordable health-care coverage, and the facility with much-needed control over runaway health-care costs. We appreciate everyone's assistance in getting this contract approved."

After Constellium workers went on strike, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called both sides to a meeting with federal mediators. The company made an offer after that, but the union decided last weekend not to vote on that offer.

Several other political leaders, including U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., and Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers, urged local union leaders to hold a vote on the offer. Union members discussed the offer Tuesday and voted Wednesday.

"There are people who are disappointed with the vote on both sides, but the majority has spoken and we have to get back to business as usual," Randy Moore, the USW subdirector, said after Wednesday's vote.

Larry Matheney, secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said Thursday that he is proud of Moore, Local 5668 President Jason Miller and union negotiators.

"I think they conducted themselves with strength and courage to protect the wishes of their members," said Matheney, a Jackson County resident. "A work stoppage is tough on everyone."

Many business and political leaders believe the full reopening of the plant, on the shores of the Ohio River, will have major positive impacts on the economies of Jackson County and the rest of the state.

A significant part of the high-quality aluminum produced at the plant is used by the aerospace industry to build aircraft.

Christophe Villemin, president of Constellium's Global Aerospace, Transportation and Industry Division, said the new contract "strongly positions Ravenswood for growth in core customer markets -- particularly among our global aerospace customers. We look forward to working with all of our key stakeholders as we strengthen our operations and build a sustainable future for Ravenswood."

Villemin and Lorentzen praised efforts by Tomblin, Rockefeller and Manchin to help bring the seven-week walkout to a conclusion.

They also praised Gerard and Steelworkers International Vice President Tom Conway, as well as the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which participated in meetings with both sides of the contract dispute in Charleston.

Headquartered in Paris, Constellium has 9,500 employees in 26 countries, as well as a market presence in more than 60 countries.

Apollo Global Management owns 51 percent of Constellium, while Rio Tinto and Fonds Stratégique d'Investissement own 39 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp. opened the Jackson County aluminum smelting and rolling complex back in 1958, operated it until 1989, then sold it to Ravenswood Aluminum.

When Ravenswood Aluminum later sold the facility, it was split in two. Alcan Rolled Products operated one plant, while Century Aluminum operated the other. Constellium bought the Alcan plant in May 2011.

Century Aluminum closed its Ravenswood plant in February 2009, when aluminum prices were falling. Today, Century executives are trying to reopen the plant at a time when aluminum prices are on the rise.

Century Aluminum hopes to win approval from the West Virginia Public Service Commission for breaks in its electricity rates to help it reopen its operations. The PSC likely will rule on the matter this month.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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