By Don McIntosh
ATI Albany Operations—the Albany, Oregon, titanium plant once known as Oremet—is closing Dec. 7, eliminating the jobs of 60 members of United Steelworkers Local 7150 who had survived multiple rounds of previous layoffs.
The plant makes high-quality titanium for jet engines and other aerospace components. Nearly all its product goes to Boeing, which has almost totally halted airliner production.
But the pandemic’s impact on the airline industry is just the latest hit to the Oremet plant. It’s been downsizing for decades, dropping from 500 employees in 2000 to about 135 at the beginning of 2020, and shedding departments like casting and titanium sponge along the way.
At the same time, Pennsylvania-headquartered ATI has been expanding similar operations at its nonunion facility in North Carolina.
In 2015 and 2016, ATI locked out 180 Oremet workers as part of a six-state labor dispute that ended in a halt to pension and retiree health benefits for new hires. At Albany at least, there were no new hires after that anyway.
Nearly all the employees now losing their jobs have worked at the plant over 20 years and are eligible for retirement—or close to it—says United Steelworkers Subdistrict Director Ron Rodgers. Rodgers himself went to work at the plant in 1996 as a millwright, leaving to work for the union in 2010.
Under the union contract, those laid off will collect a supplemental unemployment benefit and a year’s worth of emp-loyer-provided health insurance.
“Nobody’s happy about it, but as far as layoffs, everyone’s pretty much taken care of,” Rodgers told the Labor Press.
At the urging of the union, ATI will maintain the plant with a six-person skeleton crew, preserving the union contract and the possibility of reopening when titanium demand resumes in 2022.