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Intalco Workers Vote to Strike at
Ferndale Area Smelter, But Talks Continue

by Dave Gallagher
Bellingham Herald, October 14, 2011

(Philip A. Dwyer) Cryolite bath pours into an aluminum smelter pot on potline B at the Alcoa Intalco aluminum smelter west of Ferndale. The liquid was about 950 degrees Celcius Workers at Alcoa's Intalco Works rejected the company's final contract offer and have voted to strike, but a walkout was not taking place as of late Friday night, Oct. 14.

In a vote that was counted late Friday, employees at the aluminum smelter west of Ferndale rejected the company's latest contract proposal, with 78 percent authorizing a strike, according to the union's website.

In a late development, the union decided to hold off on walking out and said the company has agreed not to lock the workers out of the facility. This agreement is in place as long as progress is being made on a new contract, said Glenn Farmer, a business representative for the union.

"This is a good thing," Farmer said of agreement to continue contract talks. As of late Friday night he was telling workers to continue going to shifts as normal, and that the terms of the expired contract were still in place during this negotiation.

Negotiations between the company and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers began in August, with one other contract offer from the company being rejected by the workers. The contract expired at midnight Friday.

At press time officials at Intalco had not announced what would happen if the union did strike, but it is expected that some sort of work stoppage would take place. Check for updates.

"It's been our goal to come out with a contract that is not only fair to employees, but ensures the facility can keep operating," said Josh Wilund, a spokesman for the company, prior to the vote results.

The union contends that workers made significant sacrifices when the future of the facility was in doubt in recent years as the company negotiated with the Bonneville Power Administration on power rates. Farmer said members were not happy about certain parts of the latest contract offer, including increases in what workers would pay in medical coverage.

"They (the workers) have been through so much in recent years, and they expected more from the contract offer," Farmer said. "We expect them to be fair."

The company's latest proposal includes a variety of wage increase proposals: A $750 lump sum increase to all active employees in January 2012 and a $1,500 lump sum increase in October 2012. In October 2012, a 30-cent-per-hour increase is proposed for all wage rates, with other increases to the wage rate coming in 2013, 2015 and 2016. Other changes are proposed in a variety of areas, including union representation, employee benefits and safety.

Alcoa has steadily increased its production at the Ferndale facility while continuing to seek a long-term power contract with BPA. In February it restarted previously idled capacity, adding around 60 jobs and increasing production by about 40,000 metric tons per year. The facility currently operates at about 80 percent of capacity, employing about 500 people.

The company negotiated a short-term contract with BPA last year, with the agency providing about 320 megawatts of relatively low-cost power through May 2012.

Dave Gallagher
Intalco Workers Vote to Strike at Ferndale Area Smelter, But Talks Continue
Bellingham Herald, October 14, 2011

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