Updated: 3/07/2013 7:45 P.M.
Retired employees of Century Aluminum continue to make a public push to have their benefits restored.
Thursday, they revived their "occupation" of the company's Ravenswood plant entrance. They camped out there from late 2011 to just a year ago, seeking reinstatement of their health benefits.
Century last year agreed to restore those benefits, depending on a reopening of the plant which has been closed for four years.
That's been on hold, while the company seeks a favorable agreement on utility power rates.
A makeshift cemetery displays the names of retired workers who have passed away since 2009.
"Coy Wade's right on the front, and he was right here at 80 years old a year ago, fighting with us to help get his health care back," says retirees representative Karen Gorrell. "So it's special to us, and we think it speaks volumes as to what's happening to the retirees."
This "occupation" is scheduled to last until dawn Friday, but retirees suggested that, while their benefits are in limbo, similar demonstrations could be held in the future.
Updated: 2/26/2013 4:45 P.M.
Call it a goodwill tour of legislators' offices.
Century Aluminum retirees Tuesday made a visit to Charleston, thanking legislators who supported their battle to retain their company benefits.
"Is it still boiling down to their utility costs, and Century is trying to get the best deal it can," asked Senator Evan Jenkins, Chairman of the West Virginia Senate's Pensions committee, "and essentially holding you hostage until they get a break?"
"I think it's pretty obvious," Karen Gorrell responded. "Our plan has always been to get the plant open, get the laid off people back to work, get our benefits and give West Virginia a boost."
A year ago, state lawmakers signed off on an agreement aimed at restoring the benefits of retired Century Aluminum employees. But other things had to happen first, including the reopening of Century's shuttered Jackson County plant, itself contingent on an agreement on power rates and on a union contract.
"I cried for days after the agreement," Gorrell, spokeswoman for the retirees, recalled. "But after another year of wait, I'm not going to get excited about anything until we're ready to buy health care from it."
Failure to reach a settlement with Appalachian Power company has stalled those plans. But Gorrell revealed to reporters that the company has told retirees it has an alternative plan: one to buy power on the open market, rather than from the local utility.
"I do think they really want to restart the plant, and as long as they do that, we still have hopes. Because the state has told them they are required to take care of the retirees."
A spokesman for Century's California headquarters would not comment on Gorrell's remarks.
This year has been a roller coaster ride for retired workers at Century Aluminum. After an initial agreement to reopen the closed plant, the progress was slowed by an impasse between Century and Appalachian Power over utility rates for its operation.
While rallying in support of Governor Earl ray Tomblin Monday, a leader of the retirees group said it's time for the parties to come together...for the community's sake.
"It's just all a package," said retirees spokeswoman Karen Gorrell. "And I think everybody has been willing to do what they can, and I think it's Century's turn to be grateful for what the state is offering, and to make a decision to open that plant."
If the state public service commission issues a ruling on utility rates the two sides agree with, the next step may be negotiating a new contract with the United Steelworkers Union. That may not be guaranteed, considering the dispute the steelworkers are having right now with Century's neighbor, Constellium Rolled Products.
Constellium announced over the weekend it has made the USW a new contract offer, one which reduces the amount the company wants employees to pay into their health care benefits. As of Monday afternoon, the union could not be reached for comment on that offer.
"The retirees sacrificed our benefits, if we get them, and we'll not come close to what we paid over the years," Gorrell said. "But we knew there was just too much at stake to play hardball. We did our part, and we're standing back waiting to see if the rest of them are going to do theirs."
Gorrell did say she believes the two sides eventually will come to an agreement in the Constellium dispute.
Last winter, the governor supported-and the legislature last winter approved-a deal to have the retirement benefits restored, as a condition for the re-start of Century's Ravenswood plant.