Schumer calls on Alcoa, NYPA to reach new deal to keep jobs in Massena

Sen. Charles "Chuck" Schumer (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

MASSENA — With hundreds of jobs on the line and less than three weeks left until a contract expires, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is calling on Alcoa and the New York Power Authority to finalize an agreement that would keep Alcoa here.

With March 31 and the expiration of a three-and-a-half-year contract between Alcoa and the New York Power Authority looming ever closer, Schumer called on both parties to “expeditiously” come to a new agreement.

Schumer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in November 2015 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.

On Thursday, with Alcoa and the Power Authority still in negotiations, Schumer called on both organizations “to expeditiously reach an agreement that will allow Alcoa Corp. to continue accessing low-cost clean and renewable electricity from the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project for its smelting operations in Massena.

“The Alcoa aluminum smelting facility in Massena is the very heart and soul of the North Country and provides hundreds of good-paying jobs in St. Lawrence County. As Alcoa’s agreement to receive power from NYPA is imminently approaching its deadline on March 31st, the potentially devastating impacts of its expiration are too great to not immediately come to a new agreement,” Schumer said in a statement.

“That’s why today, I’m urging NYPA and Alcoa to reach a new agreement ASAP, to continue their fruitful partnership and maintain hundreds of crucial North Country jobs. I was proud to help facilitate the 2015 agreement between Alcoa and NYPA, as well as agreements prior to that under other governors, and believe we can reach a similar outcome again, to ensure that the Alcoa Massena facility is productive and able to thrive for years to come,” he said.

Schumer also pushed for low-cost, predictable and clean energy deals between NYPA and Alcoa under Govs. David Patterson, Eliot Spitzer and George Pataki.

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.

After Alcoa’s announcement, Schumer and Cuomo stepped in to reach a deal to keep Alcoa in Massena until March 31, 2019. They were in Massena shortly before Thanksgiving 2015 to announce the agreement, which was signed in 2016.

Since then, 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.

Schumer said Thursday that he hopes a similar deal will be reached with Alcoa to maintain its 450-plus jobs. He said he has received assurances that NYPA is committed to continuing its partnership with Alcoa.

In December, Keith Hayes, NYPA’s vice president for economic development, told Power Authority trustees, “We are still negotiating with Alcoa and expect to reach an agreement in the very near future.”

“We’re aware of the upcoming deadline and we’re working with NYPA to reach a contract prior to the expiration,” Jim Beck, Alcoa director of internal and external communications, said last week.

In a letter to NYPA officials, Schumer said, “It appears that both entities are committed to ensuring that hundreds of good paying jobs remain in St. Lawrence County for years to come. As the expiration of that deal approaches, I have received assurances that NYPA and Alcoa are committed to continuing this partnership, but both entities must now work assiduously to see that a constructive deal is forged before the looming deadline.”