Kaiser plans to rebuild relieve community

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 24, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / July 21, 1999

GRAMERCY – Wednesday’s announcement that Kaiser Aluminum intends to rebuild its facility sent waves of relief through the Gramercy community and beyond.

In addition, a series of negotiating sessions for a strike settlement have been announced.

Kaiser spokesman John Jennings, in a one-page press release, affirmed: “Kaiser’s desire and intention is to rebuild the Gramercy refinery, on the assumption that we reach agreement with various shareholders on key terms of the plant’s competitive position.”Jennings continued, “We hope to have the plant operating at a reduced production level in mid-2000 and hope to have it completely operational by the end of 2000.”The news brought comments of relief from public officials. St. JamesParish President Dale Hymel Jr. declared, “That’s really good.”Looking at a shortfall of $43,000 per month in sales taxes for more than a year, Hymel said the parish needs that vital input to the community, not to mention the hundreds of jobs which would be lost, should Kaiser have decided not to rebuild.

Gramercy Mayor Ronald St. Pierre added the news gives him hope that localbusinesses will not be forced to close down, as former Kaiser workers leave town. Instead, he said, this news could be an incentive for newbusinesses and more residents moving into the area.

Hymel said neighboring Laroche Chemical should likewise be back on line soon. That plant, which receives its electricity from Kaiser’s power plant,is now aiming at mid-August to be back up.

CII Carbon, another facility adjoining Kaiser, has been operating with propane fuel instead of natural gas.

Despite what seems good news on the strike, steelworkers union president Wayne Stafford is more cautious about the Kaiser announcement. “It’sdefinitely a step in the right direction,” he said, but added, “This talk about the shareholders runs a flag up my pole. I don’t get all hopped upabout it.”On Thursday, the United Steelworkers of America announced dates were set for new strike negotiation talks – the first, second and fourth weeks of August at locations in Denver, Colo., and in Washington state.Earlier in the week, however, Kaiser claimed negotiation dates of Aug. 9-20 were set in Denver. At the end of those talks, Kaiser would present aproposal for union consideration, with a Sept. 3 deadline for rank and fileapproval.

Finally, on Thursday, Kaiser announced that the company and the union will meet Aug. 2-3 in Denver, Aug. 9-13 in Denver and Aug. 23-26 in SanFrancisco, all with a federal mediator.

David Foster of the USWA called Kaiser “a company in crisis,” dealing with financial shortfalls and the July 5 explosion. On July 15, more than45 public officials in Washington placed full-page newspaper ads, calling for an end to the lockout and a return to work while contracts were worked out.

On the other hand, Kaiser’s statement Wednesday noted: “We have believed for some time that Gramercy can be a significantly lower cost and higher quality plant, with greatly improved financial performance. We have beenstudying alternative ways to achieve those objectives prior to and since the incident.”Kaiser’s statement concluded, “This unfortunate incident, as difficult and regrettable as it is, provides a catalyst to accelerate bringing together the necessary ingredients to make the plant more competitive for the long term.”

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