Senator Seeks Alcoa Contractby Shawna Keen
Record-Journal, August 13, 2008
Looking for human stories to bring back to congress with her, Sen. Patty Murray made her first trip to Ferndale's Alcoa Intalco Works refinery last Wednesday to show her support of the plant receiving a new 20-year power contract from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).
Alcoa is in negotiations with the government agency to secure a contract that would give long-term stability to the plant, which would start in 2011 when the current five-year contract expires.
Murray said the negotiation process was complex and challenging but that she was working hard to get the contract resolved as soon as possible.
"This plant provides a strong economic backbone to not only Ferndale but the whole region," Murray said. Having a local source of aluminum, she said, was vital to other industries in the state -- the aerospace and aluminum boat industry rely on the aluminum Alcoa produces.
Plant manager Mike Rousseau said the BPA announced its desire to have new contracts complete by the end of the year. The 665 employees of the Ferndale plant need this contract to ensure their jobs will be careers and not just temporary employment, Rousseau said.
During the visit, apprentices in a partnership program between Alcoa and Bellingham Technical College met with the senator before she went in for a town hall-style meeting with the plant's employees. Alcoa pays for tuition and books for their employees as part of the program. The apprentices work full-time at the plant and go to school as they work toward becoming electricians or millwrights.
Rousseau said a real shortage of electricians and millwrights across the nation provided the need for the program, which provides an opportunity to expand the talent in the area.
Custer resident Abe Davis is one of the 14 participants in the program. He started working at the plant as a contractor in April 2006 before switching to full-time in June 2007. He started the program with the rest of the selected apprentices in September 2007.
"It's an increase in responsibility," Davis said. "We've invested something of us into the plant. It's nice to know we're carrying on a lot of knowledge through on-the-job training."
Dave Travis is the oldest participant in the program. After working at Alcoa for 14 years, he is now working hard to improve his future.
"Without a craft, there's not much you can do," Travis said. "There's a shortage of employees for skilled crafts."
Murray was met with applause from the hundreds of employees gathered on Wednesday to hear her speech, ask questions and share stories.
Second and third generation plant workers shared personal accounts on being able to make family wages and provide health insurance to their families through Alcoa.
Murray said she was looking for stories to bring to BPA to help get across the necessity of keeping the plant up and running.
"I know how hard you work everyday," Murray told the crowd. "You have my commitment to keep working on it."
As Murray and plant officials work together with the BPA to get a contract finalized, some employees hold their breath, waiting for the announcement that will provide certainty to their lives.
"Twenty years ago this whole plant was considered DOA, dead on arrival, and now it's coming back to life," apprentice Eric Lewis said. "We want to make it work. Ferndale knows we need this plant. We've lost GP (Georgia Pacific). We don't want to lose this."
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