Intalco Contract OK'dby Kari Shaw
The Bellingham Herald - October 4, 2003
One-year extension approved as workers hope their jobs last that long
The Alcoa Intalco Works union workers overwhelmingly approved a one-year extension of their contract, with 75 percent voting to ratify in polls held Thursday night and Friday morning.
Although the contract now is in place for the next year, the jobs are not necessarily assured: The Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Inc. aluminum giant has said it will announce Oct. 15 whether it will close the smelter, citing the high cost of electricity in the Northwest. Company officials have said the smelter's higher operating costs make it difficult to compete in international markets.
The current contract for Intalco's nearly 500 International Association of Aerospace and Machinist Workers expires five days before the announcement. All of the company's employees - union and salaried - have received notices warning of imminent layoffs.
"Without batting an eye, I can say that was the most important contract vote we have had in 35 years," said shop steward Vicki Henley. "There was so much riding on it."
Because the workers ratified the contract, the union did not open the second ballot box where workers voted whether or not to approve a strike. Since they approved the contract, the strike question was moot, Henley said.
Intalco and union representatives had wondered aloud if a strike or rejected contract would be factored into Alcoa's decision to keep the plant open, curtail its production or close it.
Now the big concern is what the company will announce on Oct. 15.
Mellani Hughes, an Intalco spokeswoman, said she was pleased that workers approved the contract. She said Alcoa is waiting to hear from the Bonneville Power Administration, Northwest public utilities districts and privately owned utilities to see if they've settled outstanding litigation.
A settlement would allow BPA to offer lower electrical rates that could keep the plant open.
"With the exception of what is going to happen with the settlement ... I don't think there are any other roadblocks," she said.
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