Century Aluminum has agreed to fund health care benefits for retirees of its closed plant in Ravenswood, ending a years-long battle by former workers and their families, the United Steelworkers announced Friday.
“This settlement is a testament to the solidarity and hard work of USW retirees who never gave up trying to win back benefits earned over a lifetime of hard work,” USW International Vice President Tom Conway said in a statement on the union’s website. “This would not have happened without the retirees who made their voices heard and the union that stood behind them during a long and difficult struggle.”
The settlement is dated Feb. 9. If the court approves, the company will pay $23 million into a trust fund that will reimburse retirees for some past medical costs and help with future retiree costs.
An estimated 758 retirees, spouses or surviving spouses will benefit from the trust, called the USW/Century Aluminum Retires Health and Welfare Trust, also known as a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association or VEBA, according to the release.
Karen Gorrell, a leader and representative for Century Aluminum retirees, said retirees and their families would make a statement at a Tuesday press conference at the USW Local 5668 Union Hall in Ravenswood.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, in a statement Saturday, commended the company and CEO Mike Bless for funding the benefits.
“I am also so proud of the United Steelworkers union for fighting for the benefits that they have earned through a lifetime of hard work and for never giving up the fight,” Manchin said. “Karen Gorrell led these efforts from day one on behalf of these retirees. In 2009, the plant closed and in 2010, all the employees were told all of their health care benefits, that had been promised to them and negotiated in good faith, were gone by the stroke of a pen. These are some of the hardest-working people. They don’t ask for a whole lot, just an opportunity to take care of themselves and their family. This is great news for them and their families.”
Century closed its Ravenswood plant Feb. 15, 2009, laying off 651 workers after a sharp drop in aluminum prices between October 2008 and April 2009. In 2015, Century Aluminum announced that the smelter would be closed permanently.
Century began to eliminate medical insurance benefits in 2010, according to the statement.
The union and representative retirees filed suit seeking benefit reinstatement immediately after Century moved to stop retiree benefits.
Applied Partners, a New Jersey-based development company, is buying all the assets of Century Aluminum of West Virginia for $15 million, according to a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission in December. The transaction closed Jan. 26.
Applied Partners plans to demolish the smelter and redevelop the 1,800 acres of land acquired from Century Aluminum, Mark Whitley, executive director of the Jackson County Development Authority, told the Gazette-Mail at the time.