Cuomo visits Massena to announce Alcoa deal

Electricity agreement should secure 450 jobs for 7 years

Massena Alcoa workers react as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces a deal on Thursday that will keep the plant open for another seven years and preserve 450 jobs. (Provided photo — Christopher Lenney, Watertown Daily Times)

MASSENA — Gov. Andrew Cuomo stood at a podium at the Alcoa West smelter on Thursday afternoon and made the announcement everyone had been waiting to hear — Alcoa would continue to have a presence in Massena for the next seven years, until 2026.

“We worked with Alcoa several years ago to come up with an agreement, and that agreement is now coming to an end, and the big question is, what happens when that agreement ends?” Cuomo said.

“Well, the answer is this,” he said. “Thanks to the good work of NYPA (the New York Power Authority) and the reasonableness of management at Alcoa, we are going to have an agreement between the New York Power Authority to provide low-cost power, 240 megawatts, from the Saint Lawrence-FDR power plant to Alcoa with a price indexed to the cost of inflation so they can pay a price for power that they can afford, and that will allow Alcoa and the state to agree to a contract that keeps 450 jobs right here for seven years — 2026.”

The previous agreement, announced in November 2015 and signed in 2016, was set to expire on March 31.

Speaking before a crowd that was estimated between 200 and 250 people, Cuomo applauded Gil Quiniones, NYPA’s president and chief executive officer, for his “great creativity,” and Alcoa Plant Manager Marco Plante, “who was open and fair in the negotiation.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, talks with Alcoa Massena union leader Mark Goodfellow on Thursday after announcing a new deal that will keep the plant open for another seven years. (Provided photo — Christopher Lenney, Watertown Daily Times)

Cuomo said that, for many years, “the state was blind to upstate New York, which paid the price in terms of a struggling economy. The state was blind to the North Country, which really paid the price of a struggling economy. And I’m proud to say we’ve turned that around 180 degrees.”

In Alcoa’s case, “this plant has always been at a certain level of uncertainty,” he said. “We’ve gone out of our way to work with the plant to come up with creative ways to make sure the plant is here and make sure the plant keeps the jobs right here.”

Plante, the Alcoa plant manager, was appreciative of the state’s efforts to keep Alcoa in Massena.

“What a great day for Massena,” he said. “The site of the longest-continuing smelter operations in the world. The smelter which Alcoa has proudly operated for 100 years. We are greatly appreciative of the support we have received from New York state to make sure we have a reliable and competitively priced supply of energy.”

The new seven-year agreement is subject to approval by the NYPA Board of Trustees, and Cuomo is recommending the board vote in support of the proposed deal at its meeting on Tuesday.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who helped negotiate the 2015 agreement, called Massena’s Alcoa operation “the very heart and soul of the North Country, providing hundreds of good-paying union jobs to the hard-working people of St. Lawrence County.”

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, praised the deal between Alcoa and NYPA in a statement.

“The Alcoa aluminum smelting facility in Massena provides hundreds of good-paying jobs to workers in the North Country, and eliminating their partnership with the New York Power Authority would have been disastrous for both our region’s energy industry and hard-working families,” she said.

State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, and Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, released a joint statement praising the deal but suggesting it could have been longer-term.

“While we believe that the seven-year agreement announced today is good news, a more long-term deal would have been advantageous because no employee should have to constantly look over their shoulder in fear of job security or their future,” they said.

Last week, Schumer had urged Alcoa and the NYPA to finalize the agreement to keep Alcoa in Massena beyond the March 31 expiration of the three-and-a-half-year commitment he brokered with Cuomo in November 2015. Schumer and Cuomo announced two days before Thanksgiving of that year that they had reached a deal which included $30 million in low-cost electricity from NYPA along with operational and capital support from the state.

In exchange, Alcoa pledged to maintain at least 600 full-time-equivalent employees — those working at least 35 hours a week — on the payroll at the Massena West Smelter.

The agreement was reached after Alcoa officials announced on Nov. 2, 2015, that they would close the Massena East smelter rather than modernize it and idle the Massena West Smelter. In the process, 487 jobs would have been eliminated. Alcoa officials said at the time they expected approximately 220 jobs to remain following the reductions — at the casthouse at Massena West, which produces value-added shaped products, and in the Alcoa Forgings and Extrusions facility.

Since that 2015 agreement, signed in 2016, Alcoa has separated into two publicly traded companies — Alcoa Corp. and Arconic. During their December meeting, Power Authority trustees approved the allocation of 5 megawatts of low-cost preservation power to Arconic in exchange for a commitment to maintain 145 jobs at the Massena facility for the duration of a new 10-year contract.