Century Aluminum retirees staging 24-hour protest in Jackson Cou - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Century Aluminum retirees stage 24-hour protest in Jackson County

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Dozens of retirees are braving the cold to protest what they call an 'injustice.'

Century Aluminum retirees are protesting in front of the Jackson County plant until Friday morning.

They said the protest is about their health benefits they said have been taken away from them.

It's also giving them a chance to remember their friends and co-workers who've passed away since the Ravenswood plant closed in 2009. Many of them died without health insurance, the retirees said.

"I worked with several of them," said retiree Cliff Clay. "Sam McKinney, I worked side-by-side with him."

Clay said he believes McKinney might still be alive today if he did not lose his health care benefits.

"A lot of them, it shouldn't have happened," he said. "Sam died of a heart attack and there's people who live through heart attacks every day.

"With the right health care, he may have been alright and never had the heart attack."

Century Aluminum has said it is still actively working to get the Ravenswood plant reopened, however, the company has not indicated when that might happen.

Retiree Jim Weltner said his wife has been sick in the past. He said it's extremely expensive to pay for health care out of pocket.

"The health care costs of the doctors and everybody keeps rising, and it keeps taking all of my pension to cover the expenses to make up the difference for what we lost in health care," Weltner said.

Despite the protest, the retirees said they are hopeful a deal will be reached soon.

State lawmakers are also hopeful a deal will be reached in the near future.

Raamie Barker, senior advisor to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, stopped by the protest. He said the point of his visit was to show support for the retirees.

"We've done everything we can do to that end and continue to work with the company to bring this thing to an agreeable conclusion," Barker said.

Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., also voiced their support for the retirees through statements.

"I stand with Century's retirees, workers and the Ravenswood community - just as I always have," Rockefeller said in a news release. "This is about treating your workers fairly. That just hasn't happened.

"The Century retirees should absolutely get the benefits they were promised, and I continue urging the company to do everything possible to live up to the agreement that was reached with the retirees to restore those benefits."

Manchin said the sooner the plant opens, the better.

"The bottom line is that this plant should be open and the retirees should have the medical benefits they were promised and earned," Manchin said in a news release. "We have worked with Century management and employees at the plant, local leaders and labor leaders to discuss negotiations for years now.

"It's time to fish or cut bait. We need to show this country how a partnership between government, business and labor can create jobs and a better working environment. It's time to prioritize keeping manufacturing jobs in West Virginia and across this country."

The retirees plan to protest until Friday morning at 9 a.m.