Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Century will add jobs

By Beth Wilberding, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 12:27 AM CST
Century Aluminum of Kentucky will add about 100 positions at its Hawesville smelter after announcing plans Tuesday to reactivate a curtailed potline.

Employees will be recalled, and new hires will be made for the positions, the company said. The potline, which is one of five at the plant, was curtailed in March 2009. At that time, about 120 union and nonunion workers were laid off.

The decision to restart the potline came because the Hawesville smelter is facing competitive cost pressure, according to Michael Dildine, a company spokesman.

"This was an important step in helping the Hawesville facility lower its costs on a per-ton basis and improve competitiveness," he wrote in an e-mail.
The potline is expected to restart in the first quarter of 2011.

Century Aluminum had shut down the potline "as a consequence of the cost structure of the plant and depressed aluminum prices," according to a company press release.

The company expects to have about 750 employees once the smelter is at full capacity, and about 600 will be represented by United Steel Workers Local 9423, Dildine wrote.

Most of the workers who were laid off in 2009 have been recalled.

The Hawesville smelter has a rated capacity of about 250,000 metric tons of primary aluminum annually from five potlines, the press release said. Restarting the idled potline is expected to increase primary aluminum production by about 4,370 metric tons per month.

"Bringing the Hawesville smelter back to full operating capacity will improve our competitiveness and help sustain continued operations," Hawesville Vice President and Plant Manager Matt Powell said in the press release. "We will begin preparations for restarting the idled potline immediately."

Hancock County Judge-Executive Jack McCaslin said the announcement was "kind of like an early Christmas present."

"With the occupational tax ..., it's going to boost our county up in getting some more taxes," he said. "It's hurt us, not only Century, but some of the other plants had some slowdowns in different areas. We've done way short of what we've normally gotten."

McCaslin estimated that the county has lost from $200,000 to $250,000 in occupational tax revenue because of unemployment. The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training said Hancock County's unemployment rate was 8.1 percent for October -- down from 10.7 percent in October 2009.

"It's wonderful news," McCaslin said. "It's going to really help our local businesses."

McCaslin and Mike Baker, executive director of the Hancock County Industrial Foundation, both said they hoped the potline restarting means the company has more business or new clients.

Century Aluminum and Local 9423 are still negotiating a new contract for the plant. Members of the union rejected the company's most recent offer in October, and Dildine said the company can't comment on the status of the negotiations.

The most recent contract expired at midnight March 31, and contract extensions expired May 6.