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State presses Alcoa to avoid forced layoffs; workers may get retirement incentives


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,” said a statement Thursday from Gov. Cuomo’s communications director, Melissa DeRosa. “Involuntary layoffs at the Massena operation would be considered a breach.”

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 and Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said officials from the governor’s office told them the state is pressing Alcoa to keep its agreement.

“What they’re 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,” Mr. Hidy said.

“I understand the meeting was somewhat successful,” he said.

According to the governor’s statement: “Alcoa expressed a willingness to work with us, and conversations between the state, the company, and the union will continue.”

Alcoa officials said they appreciated the state’s willingness to listen to their concerns, releasing the following statement: “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.”

When asked whether they agreed with the state’s hardball approach, Mr. Gray and Mr. Hidy avoided picking a side.

“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 maintain as many jobs as possible.”

Mr. Hidy said that at this point it’s out of Massena’s hands, but that 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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