Local leaders rally to save Intalco jobs
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Ferndale jobs will not be lost without a fight.
“We are bringing together workers, Alcoa representatives, local leaders, congressional leaders and economists to figure out what we can do,” state Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-42nd) said, following an announcement that a major employer in Ferndale would cease operations this summer. “This isn’t a partisan issue. This is a Whatcom issue. So, we’re spreading the word far and wide to solve it together.”
In April, the Alcoa Corporation announced it will halt its smelter works at Cherry Point amid declining market conditions and strong international competition. Since the beginning of the year, aluminum prices have fallen more than 20 percent, down 45 percent from highs in 2018. The aluminum producer anticipated the Ferndale smelter could shutter by the end of July.
Shewmake was joined in her pledge by other elected representatives.
“This is not just about the smelter,” Rep. Luanne Van Werven (R-42) said. “It is about families, our Whatcom County communities and our local economy.”
“Alcoa’s Intalco smelter is one of the industries that transformed Ferndale into the city it is today. They are part of our DNA,” said Ferndale Mayor Greg Hansen. “I am reaching out to everyone I can to fight like hell for those jobs.”
“If Alcoa Intalco closes its doors, 700 working families will instantly lose their livelihood in a city of only 15,000 people. The facility is one of the largest employers in Whatcom County, and it is estimated that every job at the plant supports 4.2 indirect and induced jobs in the region,” Robert Martinez noted in a letter to the Trump administration. Martinez is president of the the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) trade union.
“The effect of this plant closure on these workers, their families and the surrounding community would be devastating,” he said.
Congressional Representatives Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen, together with U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, sent a letter to Alcoa President and CEO Roy Harvey urging the company work to find a solution to the looming layoffs.
“This is the second time in five years that Alcoa has announced that it would curtail operations at Intalco,” congressional leaders noted in their letter, “and it is deeply distressing that the company chose to make this announcement in the middle of a pandemic.”
The federal lawmakers also sent a letter to President Trump noting the failure of the administration to adequately address Chinese aluminum excess capacity and urging it to prioritize resolving this issue. “China’s excess aluminum capacity has depressed prices in the global market, and harmed American businesses and workers, specifically in Washington state,” congressional Democrats noted.
“We have a shared interest in addressing unfair trading practices and protecting American jobs in the domestic aluminum industry,” the lawmakers wrote the president. “Excess capacity in China is still a serious problem for the American aluminum industry.”
Operations at the Ferndale facility have been under market pressure for some time, but had stabilized following a series of federal power contracts and facility upgrades.
“We know that current market conditions are challenging for the aluminum industry and we have consistently worked to address some of these challenges—including in 2016, when we worked with Governor Inslee to support an agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration to improve the competitiveness of Intalco,” DelBene and Larsen noted in their letter.
“We fought hard at the state level for Intalco in the past, including $3 million for workforce retraining in 2016 when the plant was threatened with curtailment,” Van Werven recalled. “In 2018 we secured $2 million to begin upgrading to a point feed project on their potlines to decrease carbon emissions.”
Losing the Ferndale Alcoa Intalco Works, the last of its kind in the Pacific Northwest and one of only seven primary aluminum smelters remaining in the United States, would further increase the nation’s strategic metals deficit with China, Martinez warned.
“Allowing this facility to close would do significant and irreversible damage to our nation’s capacity o produce aluminum, severely weaken our domestic supply chain and jeopardize our national security, particularly in times of national emergency,” he said. The IAM represents manufacturing, aerospace, defense, airlines, transportation, shipbuilding, health care and other industries.
“The reliance on foreign aluminum has once again become noticeably apparent during the current COVID-19 pandemic, where high-quality aluminum is needed quickly and seamlessly to manufacture ventilators, hospital beds, and other vital medical equipment,” Martinez said.
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