By CLINTON VINING
Gorge News Report
In a further blow to the region's economy, Golden Northwest announced Wednesday it has "temporarily curtailed all remaining primary aluminum production" at its Goldendale smelter.
On March 14, the company shut down production on a cell line that had been restarted last November. That cut reduced capacity by 38,000 metric tons. The latest shutdown, which effectively closes the Goldendale plant completely, will reduce capacity by a final 12,000 metric tons and result in a layoff of the remaining 150 Goldendale smelter employees.
The specialties aluminum casting operation in The Dalles, with approximately 120 employees, will continue. The main plant at The Dalles was shut down in December 2000.
The Goldendale plant shutdown will take place this week, according to personnel director Al Whitehead. Some employees will be required for shutdown cleanup and processing activities for a few days beyond that.
He said The Dalles and Goldendale workers were represented by separate bargaining units, so senior workers from Goldendale would not be able to "bump" workers at The Dalles specialties casting operation. Whitehead also said the plant will be shut down systematically so that it could be easily restarted.
It's the second major employment blow in a second week for the local area. Insulfoam in The Dalles shut down last Friday, leaving 20 people jobless.
At full operation, the smelters in Goldendale and The Dalles employed over 1,100 workers and produced a combined capacity of 250,000 metric tons of aluminum a year.
In a statement released yesterday, Golden Northwest CEO Brett Wilcox said "We remain committed to restart smelter operations as soon as possible, and to put our employees back to work. The key to restarting our smelters is to obtain an economical power supply. We are trying to work with the Bonneville Power Administration to make that possible and are continuing efforts to develop generating resources to provide a long-term power supply."
Members of the United Steelworkers of America Local 8147 met March 26 at the Union Hall to discuss their future after Goldendale Aluminum Co. officials announced that the plant was closing.
The general feeling was "what are we going to do now?" Representatives from several nearby community colleges and trade schools, state trade union, and the local WorkSource employment and training facility met with the Steelworkers to give them guidance.
Local Steelworkers President, Ken Berry, said many of the workers don't even know where to start. They have questions about how to apply for unemployment, Berry said.
"It's beneficial for them to come here and talk to some of the counselors from the schools," Berry said.
The Klickitat County Board of Commissioners fear the fallout from the plant closure. Commissioner Ray Thayer said he has been here through two previous closures and watched people leave town, letting mortgages go bad.
"The last time, people just walked and let houses go back," Thayer said.
Commissioners Joan Frey and Don Struck vowed to do what they can to help the aluminum plant employees get back to work.
"If there's any way that the county can assist in getting those folks back to work, that's our ultimate goal," said Frey.
Frey pointed to the unfinished Calpine energy plant as an example. She said it was originally being built to provide cheap power for the aluminum plant, and now it sits incomplete. She said there needs to be a push to finish it.
"We'll continue to lobby our legislators to see what we can do," Struck added.