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Alcoa planning to file document indicating layoffs may be coming


MASSENA — Alcoa is expected to encourage early retirements and voluntary layoffs as it shuts down the last two potlines at its East plant, according to local officials who were briefed on talks held Thursday between company executives and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office.

The Cuomo administration said it was holding Alcoa to the terms of its agreement with the state, under which it receives low-cost hydropower in return for committing to a $600 million upgrade of its facilities and preserving at least 900 local jobs.

“Top officials from the Cuomo administration and the New York Power Authority met with Alcoa representatives and reiterated our position that the company is expected to honor the terms of its long-term power supply contract with NYPA,” according to a statement Thursday from Gov. Cuomo’s communications director, Melissa DeRosa. “Involuntary layoffs at the Massena operation would be considered a breach.”

Ms. DeRosa said Alcoa officials heard the message and are working on a way to preserve jobs and possibly lower employment numbers through voluntary staff reductions.

“Alcoa expressed a willingness to work with us and conversations between the state, the company, and the union will continue,” she said.

But in a sign that job losses are looming, the company soon will file a notice of potential layoffs, according to Massena Mayor James F. Hidy. The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notice is required before a plant closing or a mass layoff at a single site when at least 50 full-time workers are laid off, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Alcoa employs 332 workers at its East plant, and 1,001 total in Massena.

Mr. Hidy said he was contacted by representatives from Sen. Joseph A. Griffo’s office, as well as June O’Neill, who works in the governor’s office, following Thursday’s “emergency meeting” state officials had with Alcoa representatives in New York City.

“After speaking with Sen. Griffo’s and June O’Neill’s offices, I understand the meeting was ‘somewhat successful,’” he said.

Based on information garnered in those conversations, Mr. Hidy and Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, who also spoke with officials from the governor’s office, said Alcoa is working to try and find ways to reduce its workload without falling in breach of a contract they signed with the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the state in exchange for 478 megawatts of ow-cost hydroelectric power from the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Hydroelectric Plant.

“They (the governor’s office) reiterated their position and New York state is holding Alcoa to the terms of the contract and that there be no involuntary layoffs of employees,” Mr. Gray said. “They told me Alcoa has been made aware of this and they’re working with the union to try and come up with some incentives for retirements or other voluntary separations, as they (the state) expect Alcoa to maintain the required job levels according to the contract.”

Mr. Hidy had similar comments.

“What they’re (Alcoa) going to try and do is encourage early retirements and voluntary layoffs, but the governor’s office is holding firm in regards to involuntary layoffs being a breach of contract.”

When Alcoa officials were asked for their take on the meeting, they said they appreciated the state’s willingness to meet with them and listen to their concerns, releasing the following statement.

“We appreciate the cooperation of the NYPA leadership and other stakeholders who share our commitment to the north country. We will continue to work with our unions, state, local and other stakeholders to minimize the impact of these changes and ensure our continued competitiveness at Massena West,” a company spokeswomam said.

The existing contract between Alcoa and NYPA says Alcoa must have a minimum of 900 employees in Massena.

According to figures released by the company on Thursday, the east plant currently employs 332 employees, while the west plant has 669 employees, giving the company a total of 1,001 employees in Massena.

Company officials reiterated Thursday they remain committed to making decisions that minimized the impact of idling the final two potlines at Alcoa East.

“We will work with the unions to minimize the impact on jobs,” the company’s statement said.

When asked whether they were in agreement with the state’s hardball approach, Mr. Gray and Mr. Hidy avoiding picking a side in the issue.

“I think Alcoa willingly signed the contract and they received guarantees from the power authority and the state as part of that contract. This is between them and New York state,” Mr. Gray said. “Obviously we are concerned and hope they (Alcoa) maintain as many jobs as possible.”

Mr. Hidy agreed and said, at this point it’s out of Massena’s hands, but he said he understands the state’s stance.

“They want to make sure the plans for modernization are still there,” he said. “It’s kind of a fine line, but now we have to wait and see how this plays out.”

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