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Century Aluminum retirees will rally at the Capitol Tuesday to thank lawmakers

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Retirees from Century Aluminum's Ravenswood plant are grateful, despite the position they've been put in by the company.

The retirees plan to gather at the Capitol Feb. 26 to hand-deliver letters of thanks to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other lawmakers who passed a bill at the end of the 2012 legislative session to allow Century to seek a special electricity rate.

The Ravenswood smelter has been closed since 2009. More than 600 workers were left unemployed and retirees lost their benefits.

"We have tried to be patient while Century puts together a strategy in which they can restart the plant, but we are running out of patience," retiree spokeswoman Karen Gorrell said in an email. "Century always appears to want the retirees to be on ‘their team,' but they obviously have no regard for the devastation that most retirees have and are still facing."

Gorrell said Century engaged in an "extremely unethical action," when the company terminated the retirees' benefits that had been contractually promised and paid for.

"In our quest to force Century to honor their promised obligations, we reached out to our elected officials and asked for your support!" the retirees state in their letter to lawmakers. "It still gives us chills on how overwhelmingly you responded."

Gorrell said a settlement agreement between the retirees and the company was never presented to the court to allow it to become a binding document.

But most officials familiar with the situation understood that once Century reopened the plant, retiree benefits would be restored.

Gorrell said retiree benefits hinged on several steps within their agreement, such as passage of the legislation, a special rate approval from the Public Service Commission of West Virginia and a signed labor contract.

From May through October, Century and Appalachian Power engaged in a rate case with the PSC, and several rate structures were proposed during that time. Many of those proposals suggested allowing some of Century's electricity payments to be charged to other Appalachian Power customers.

"Our benefits were held hostage to the actions of others, and in our opinion, that was a strategic move," the retirees' letter to lawmakers reads. "The retirees could not support Century's request to have the rate payers on fixed incomes at risk to higher electric  bills, even though we realized our health care was at stake."

The letter goes on to state that while Century looks at a new strategy to obtain a power arrangement, the retirees support Century in its efforts to restart the smelter.

Century has not accepted the PSC's final order, but a Century Spokesman Mike Dildine said Feb. 25 the startup costs for Ravenswood are about $45 million, but restarting the smelter is an important priority for Century, and the company appreciates the support it's received from Tomblin and other state leaders.

"Century is continuing to actively evaluate alternative power supply arrangements that would enable a restart," Dildine said in an email.