Around 1,000 workers at an Ormet aluminum smelting plant in Ohio lost their jobs, security, and health benefits when the plant closed its doors in October. The layoffs are the result of Governor John Kasich’s Public Utilities Commission refusing to grant the company reduced pricing on electricity; help that was desperately needed.
Falling aluminum prices and a steady stream of rate increases by American Electric Power have recently been damaging the company’s ability to survive. In August, Ormet estimated the additional electricity cost to be in the neighborhood of $20 million annually. The company began a series of layoffs as a result of the cost increase.
In October, the Public Utilities Commission, feigning an effort to help Ormet, considered a request for help. The PUCO, four-fifths of which was appointed by Governor Kasich, approved part of Ormet’s request, granting a projected $308 million in electricity discounts, financed by an average $2-3 increase per month in typical households, but it falls short of the rate Ormet is seeking. To survive, according to Ormet, it needs a reduction from $60 per megawatt-hour to $45.89.
The PUCO only restructured existing subsidies without actually providing any help, Ormet CEO Mike Tanchuk said in a statement. Tanchuk blames the plant closing, in part, on Ohio’s deregulation of the electricity market, which he says is the root of the increase in the cost of power. “How can this administration justify an energy policy that puts thousands of people out of work?” he asked.
The United Steelworkers union has launched a campaign to “union thug” Kasich into helping to restart the plant, placing emphasis on the damage the closure is doing to the surrounding community. As part of “Save Ohio Jobs” the union plans to “hand deliver an invitation to their holiday food and toy drive and almost 9,000 petition signatures to Governor John Kasich’s office in Columbus asking him once again to step in an help #SaveOhioJobs,” according to the web site.
The aim is to force Kasich to come face-to-face with those affected by “his decision to support big corporations over jobs.”
The threat to the community is not exaggerated. Already we are seeing signs of the desperation that the plant’s closure is causing. In November, Officer Richard Barrette was dispatched to a business in nearby Paden City, WV on a shoplifting call and discovered that the suspect had only stolen baby food for her six month old child. Barrette and the store owner decided not to charge the woman. “Her husband was an ex-Ormet worker who had gotten laid off, hasn’t been paid in a couple of months and was struggling, that’s why she was taking the baby food,” said Barrette.
This incident has inspired the community to rise up to assist those who are suffering. The Postelthwhit’s, operators of the Tasty Freez on 4th Ave. in Paden City regularly give away extra goods to the poor, but they have decided to expand that effort. The family encouraged the community to stop in and donate food, diapers, wipes, and winter clothing. They will be accepting donations and handing out goods between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. “I’ve been there, I have had daughters that I couldn’t feed,” said Mary Postelthwhit, “I had to leave them on Main Street in Paden City with Donnie and Gracie Richards. I had no place to live, I lived in the park. I’ve been in her shoes, I’ve been in everybody’s shoes.”
Unfortunately, donations can only go so far when much of the community depends on Ormet for employment. If a solution is not found soon, we may witness the area become a “ghost town.”
Watch this powerful video that explains how Ormet’s closure will affect the region: