Alcoa on Thursday began laying off dozens of workers at its aluminum smelter in Ferndale, Whatcom County, just one day after Gov. Jay Inslee wrote the company offering assistance should it choose to ramp back up or sell to an outside buyer.
The move appears to signal the end of jobs for most of the 700 workers employed by the Intalco plant in the town of 14,500, barring a last-ditch sale of the smelter. A machinists’ union representing plant employees had rallied state and federal politicians to save Intalco, but a top official said Thursday that pleas for Alcoa to reconsider had fallen on deaf ears.
“Alcoa is not the least bit interested in keeping this place going,’’ said Glenn Farmer, local business representative for International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. “I think we rattled them pretty good, but they held their ground and essentially, they just don’t see a future in aluminum in the United States.’’
Pittsburgh-based Alcoa announced in April it would curtail operations at the Intalco plant by late July, citing falling aluminum prices because of Chinese overproduction and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The company has maintained its decision is final, despite pleas from local Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Inslee that it find another way.
Farmer said the company, instead, is cutting workers earlier than previously anticipated; about 65 are to be laid off by Friday, more next week and totaling 400 by June 21 — up from 350 the union had been told to expect. The plan is to maintain 25 to 30 people by August and pare that to 14 within a year.
He said the union continues to pursue the “longshot’’ possibility of the plant being bought, adding that exploratory discussions with outside groups have been ongoing this week.
Inslee’s letter to Alcoa CEO Roy Harvey on Wednesday offered state help to facilitate a sale and asked that his office be informed of potential buyers. “My office has engaged in discussions with your company representatives, and we understand that you do not believe anything can be done to keep this essential business operational,’’ Inslee wrote. “Nonetheless, we stand ready to help Intalco fully ramp back up, should you choose to do so when global markets improve.’’
The governor added he was disappointed by Alcoa’s decision, given its adverse community impact during a pandemic. The state previously helped keep the plant open, and Inslee wrote that it will do what it can to help new buyers stay competitive.
“Washington State has an established infrastructure that allows companies like Intalco to be as competitive as possible, and in 2016, we worked with Intalco executives and federal officials to secure a deal that helped keep the company operational until now,’’ Inslee wrote. “That deal included some of the lowest energy prices in the nation, a tax preference extension worth $2 million per year, and $3 million for worker training and skill enhancement.’’
But Alcoa has said those prior efforts only delayed the inevitable, as the company lost $24 million in its first fiscal quarter with no signs of improvement on the horizon.