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Intalco layoffs and curtailment complete – who is to blame?

Alcoa Intalco Works entrance sign (April 22, 2020). Photo: My Ferndale News

FERNDALE, Wash. — The Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter curtailment has been completed according to workers, many of which were laid off in the process.

Pittsburgh-based Alcoa announced the planned curtailment and layoffs in April citing declining market conditions. At the time, the company estimated 700 workers would be laid off at the Intalco facility beginning in June according to the company’s WARN notification to the Washington State Department of Employment Security. According to a September 9th press release from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, 621 were ultimately laid off.

At the time, industry experts were saying the economic environment was quite uncertain given lower immediate demand and yet unknown future demand while many customer factories had been shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic response.

A rally in support of the Intalco Works facility and workers was held in Ferndale outside of Pioneer Park the day after the curtailment announcement and many speakers were critical of aluminum product producers in China. Speakers said subsidized Chinese aluminum production was responsible for the decline in aluminum prices.

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After the planned curtailment was announced there were reports that Canadian aluminum product importers were shipping increased amounts of aluminum products into the US tariff-free as a result of trade agreements entered into between the US, Canada and Mexico last year. The US government was lobbied by 2 of the 3 US aluminum product producers to reinstate tariffs on aluminum product imports from Canada, blaming Canadian imports for a drop in price of primary aluminum. Last month, the US government agreed to instate a new 10-per-cent levy on aluminum imports from Canada. Alcoa opposed the tariffs.

Alcoa operates 2 smelters in Canada and is a partner in a third according to news reports from Reuters.

Alcoa officials were quoted in the Wall Street Journal arguing the duties on Canadian imports do not address excess aluminum product production in China which they claim is responsible for driving down global aluminum prices.

In February, the European Union opened an anti-dumping investigation into aluminum extrusions originating from China and then last month opened another regarding flat rolled products from China.

“It’s obvious that Chinese firms aren’t respecting the global rules of free and fair trade and the numbers show they are dumping more and more products on our market.” Director General of European Aluminium Gerd Götz is quoted saying in an AluminumToday news story about the investigations published last month.

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