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Aluminum Workers Picket In Columbus

Idled workers at Ormet Aluminum say they'll continue to picket and petition in Columbus to regain their jobs. The eastern Ohio manufacturing plant laid off most of it's workforce last October after the Public Utilities Commission ruled against it in a dispute with American Electric Power. In their latest sidewalk demonstration, about 40 Ormet workers carried signs and US flags in front of AEP's Headquarters. Donnie Blatt of the United Steel Workers Union says the Ormet workers lost their jobs, in part, because the Columbus-based utility declined to re-negotiate a long-term electricity contract. "That's the reason we're here. That's why we want to make the public aware about how AEP is destroying jobs in Ohio," says Blatt. The aluminum manufacturer was one of AEP's biggest industrial customers. In a written response to the protest, AEP said Ormet's electric rates had already been "substantially discounted." The Publilc Utilities Commission of Ohio agreed. It determined an electric rate contract between AEP and Ormet should remain intact. After the ruling, Ormet laid off 600 workers. A company spokeswoman confirms the previous total workforce of 1,100 has now shrunk to fewer than 50. Tom Welsch is among those who lost his job. He says the electric dispute occurred at a time when the price of aluminum had dropped by about a third. That put even more financial pressure on Ormet to idle the plant.

"The price of aluminum is a problem," says Welsch. "But aluminum is sold as a commodity. And it's always like the teeth on a saw. It's up and it's down. And you want to have a plant running when it's down, so when it goes up you're already rolling."

Future operations of the plant remain uncertain. The company said previously that it would need a more favorable electric contract and higher aluminum prices. Union spokesman Donnie Blatt says Ormet workers hold out some hope. The union has agreed to some concessions. And, Blatt says the goal of repeated protests in Columbus is get Governor Kasich's attention. "We're sending petitions to his office. We've had over 10,000 so far. We've got more we're collecting urging him to get the parties back to the table," says Blatt. Both the company and the union say a lower negotiated electricity rate would allow Ormet to construct its own electric generating plant next to the the aluminum smelter. Blatt says it would be fired by natural gas from the surrounding Marcellus shale.