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Ravenswood, West Virginia: Aluminium disputes put town in turmoil

Aluminium is proving to be a double-edged sword for the town of Ravenswood, West Virginia, as problems with two producers – Century Aluminium and now Constellium Rolled Products – are both cause for concern.

Century Aluminium's long-running negotiations to re-open its Ravenswood smelter continue. The plant closed in 2009 at the beginning of the global recession and remains closed while the company attempts to secure a special power rate in order to re-open the facility.

Century wants a specia powerl rate to counteract the poor economics of high power costs associated with producing aluminium while global prices for the non-ferrous metal are low. The company expects the aluminium market to pick up and that when it does, they will make up for any subsidies they need now to get started.

Derrick Williamson of the West Virginia Energy Users Group urged the state's Public Service Commission at a recent hearing to reject Century's plans, which involve shifting some of its power costs on to other energy users – including the general public.

West Virginia's Governor, Earl Ray Tomblin has stated that he will not support shifting Century's costs to West Virginia residents or businesses.

Ravenswood is blighted by industrial disputes, the most recent being a strike by workers at Constellium Rolled Products (CRP), currently the largest employer in Jackson County. 

CRP employs 1,000 workers and 700 of them went on strike on Sunday 7 August in protest against a new contract of employment and its implications for  employee health care cover.

The United Steel Workers (USW) union has filed charges of unfair labour practice with the National Labour Relations Board, alleging that Constellium has encouraged workers to resign from the union.

As both disputes roll on, the town of Ravenswood has been described as 'teetering on a ghost town', according to a USA Today report.

Lucy Harbert, Ravenswood's mayor, fears for the town's future, claiming that Century's closure in 2009 devastated the community. Stores are closing, people can no longer pay their utility bills, retirees have lost their benefits and people are taking 'a lot more drugs', says Harbert.