Even before he entered the Jackson County Courthouse Tuesday, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was met by a group of retirees and their supporters from Century Aluminum...who, while they feel senior Senator Jay Rockefeller has been representing them, don't feel the same way about Manchin.
Manchin told the group he hasn't lent a deaf ear to their efforts...and believes legislation might be an method to keep companies such as Century from cancelling the health benefits of retirees. But it isn't just Manchin with whom the former workers are upset. During the just-concluded legislative session, they opposed a bill supported by acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin aimed at reducing the company's electric costs.
"He's never so much as sent us a form letter saying, 'we're sorry about you'.," Karen Gorrell, wife of one of the retirees, told Manchin. "But he can sit down with Century executives, and hand our tax money over to these people who are taking our health care."
Century has said they intend to reopen the plant, which shut down in 2009, although no date for that has been set...and has reportedly been discussing that with county officials. Sen. Manchin said that, when he was governor, he tried to work with the company to keep the plant open, and that he continues to bring economic development to Jackson County.
"We've worked on keeping Alcan open...we've worked on bringing the new Armstrong plant to Jackson County," Manchin said. "So we're doing everything we possibly can, switching to the new role in the U.S. Senate. There might be some people who feel that way, but they know I'm going to give them all I've got."
An appeals court is scheduled in May to hear the retirees case. But their impromptu meeting Tuesday with Manchin is a sign they aren't waiting for relief in the legal system.
"Because if we as little people can't count on our elected officials, who can we count on?," Gorrell told us. "And this should not be allowed to happen in America, and never, ever in West Virginia."
Manchin's tour of West Virginia cities this week will also focus on senior citizens' issues as well as economic development and energy independence.