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Aluminum Plant Employees Asking For Help In Saving Their Jobs
12/2/2015 4:53:08 PM

An employee tapping metal at Century Aluminum
By Barney Blakeney

Employees of Century Aluminum’s Mt. Holly Aluminum smelting plant in Goose Creek hope to avoid a needless shutdown in production that would have a significant negative economic impact on its workforce and approximately 2,100 jobs in the Metropolitan Charleston region.

The Mt. Holly plant has been located in Goose Creek some 35 years and is among the area’s highest paying businesses with an annual payroll of between $50 million-$60 million. The plant has meant quality jobs and wages to its workforce that resides primarily in Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties. But the plant’s financial arm reaches further and has an economic impact of nearly $1 billion regionally.

That impact touches residents of some 11 counties, according to plant officials.

The Goose Creek plant previously was wholly owned by Alcoa Aluminum and has meant a higher quality of life to past and present employees over three decades. Workers supported families, sent children to college and some now are enjoying retirement with grandchildren due in large part to employment at the plant. That’s about to change for current workers if Century Aluminum officials can’t reach an agreement with state-owned electrical supplier Santee Cooper.

Century took full ownership of the plant a year ago and six months ago began negotiating with Santee Cooper for a new power supply contract. Since 2012 the smelting plant which is North America’s most efficient, has been running with a blend of power sources that incorporates 75 percent from an out of state provider and 25 percent from Santee Cooper. All of the power comes into the plant over Santee Cooper lines. In July Santee Cooper refused to renew its contract.

Power costs that have been increasing the past 15 years and cheaper imported aluminum makes production at Century more costly, said Plant Manager Dennis Gregory. To cut costs Century wants to get all its power from its cheaper out of state provider and pay Santee Cooper to pump it in.

Santee Cooper wants to provide all the plant’s power at a rate about 40 percent higher than any other provider in the U.S., Gregory said. That would force closure, he said.

Even if Century got half the power it needs from Santee Cooper the plant would lose $10 million-$20 million next year. That’s unsustainable, he said.

Century says it would reduce production by half its capacity and has offered to buy all the power it needs from Santee Cooper for about a year as a concession, but Santee Cooper won’t budge, Gregory said. Unless Santee Cooper relinquishes in the high stakes power play Century plans to shut down operations December 30.

Human Resources Manager Marvin Dickerson says that’s unfathomable. Unless Santee Cooper accepts Century’s proposal, the plants closes and employees lose their jobs, he said. The average employee earns $50,000-$55,000 annually with benefits totaling about $92,000 annually.

With their backs against the wall Century employees are asking for help from their community. Gov. Nikki Haley has refused to influence Santee Cooper on Century’s behalf so they’re depending on people to call their state representatives, Santee Cooper Board of Directors members and local government officials to let them know how much the plant impacts their lives and the community.

“Closing this plant is unfathomable when so many people benefit and we have a workable solution,” Dickerson said.

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Charles Submitted: 12/3/2015
switch to natural gas. Alcoa Aluminum also shut down that part of the Alcoa plant for the same reason . cheaper to get aluminum from china than it is to make it.

Submitted By: Clay Submitted: 12/3/2015
The government should do something about the market being flooded with Chinese aluminum. China is using illegal trade practices to dump their metal in the U.S. It's just another way they are destroying our economy. Americans are suffering and our government will not do anything about it.

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