Notice expires; Ormet working

HANNIBAL – Tom Byers is glad Ormet Corp. made it through 2012 without laying off nearly 1,000 employees, but he would like to see the 237 who are out of work return to their jobs.

“We have about 600 on the job right now,” said Byers, president of United Steelworkers Local 5724 at the Ormet Hannibal Primary Aluminum Reduction Plant. “That is what we have with four of six potlines running.”

Last summer, Ormet issued a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice regarding the possibility of laying off 998 employees, including 837 union workers and 161 members of management. Byers said the W.A.R.N. notice expired Dec. 31, meaning the company does not appear to be in position for such massive layoffs.

In addition to American Electric Power bills that Ormet Chief Executive Officer Mike Tanchuk said were going to increase by about $20 million per year, company officials cited declining aluminum prices on the London Metal Exchange as reasons for issuing the W.A.R.N. notice.

“I am seeing the cup as being two-thirds of the way full,” said Byers, emphasizing that four of the six potlines are running. “The price of aluminum has come up a bit since they issued that notice. We are hopeful that this can all work out in the end.

“The last thing this area needs, especially right now, is to lose these jobs. And that doesn’t even count all the jobs they support,” he said.

A secretary at the plant said Tanchuk would not be in last week to answer questions regarding the status of the plant and its power supply.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio previously approved Ormet’s request to defer paying electric bills that would be due for October and November in 17 monthly installments during 2014 and 2015. The company said these bills total about $27 million. As part of the deal, however, commission members stated that any further Ormet requests for help from the PUCO must include a “business plan confirming its long-term ability to exist without ratepayer support.”

Byers collected more than 2,500 signatures for a petition and accompanying letter that he mailed to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, seeking the governor’s help to find a solution for Ormet.

“Ormet is a vital part of southeast Ohio’s economy, and the administration has worked to encourage efforts among the independent stakeholders to craft a successful, sustainable future for the company and its employees,” Rob Nichols, press secretary for Kasich, said in response.

As Ormet’s electricity rate debate continues with the PUCO and AEP, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel questioned the rate discount plan Ormet got from AEP in July 2009 for a period of 10 years. The organization believes other AEP customers ultimately will have to pay more than $305 million in higher rates over the 10-year period in order for Ormet to receive lower power rates.