West Virginia retirees occupy Century Aluminum, win healthcare, 2011-2012

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Time Period:  
December 18
February 29
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Ravenswood, West Virginia
Location Description: 
outside the closed down Century Aluminum Factory
The goal of the campaign was to regain health care benefits for retirees and former employees of Century Aluminum.

In 2009, the Century Aluminum factory in Ravenswood, West Virginia laid off 650 employees. However, the factory promised those laid off and those forced to retire that they would continue to receive their health care benefits. Retirees were shocked in June 2010 when the factory announced they were cutting the healthcare plan for retirees. Karen Gorrell, a leader of the ensuing movement to regain health care, stated, “[When the retirees are] actually beginning to suffer from the exposure [from hazardous chemical exposure], then the company comes in and just pulls out the rug.”

United Steelworkers Local 5668, the labor union that represented most of the retirees, filed a lawsuit against Century Aluminum in the hopes of regaining the health care benefits. However, months went by with no progress as the lawsuit shuffled between courts.

The retirees decided to escalate their strategy. On 18 December 2011, around 24 retirees occupied the factory. They demanded that Century Aluminum restore their health care benefits, especially considering the health problems caused by working in the factory. United Steelworkers helped them to organize their encampment right outside the factory entrance. These retirees camped outside of the factory in the bitter cold, with a small group staying overnights. Most of the retirees were in their 70s and 80s and experienced health problems and difficulties during the encampment. Large signs declaring “Occupy Century Aluminum” and “What do we want? Healthcare! When do we want it? Now!” surrounded the tents.

Occupy Century Aluminum was part of the greater Occupy movement at the time, representing the fight of the 99% against corporate greed.

The retirees received considerable support from local politicians, as well as others involved in the greater Occupy movement. On 3 February, Governor Tomblin visited the site, providing support and words of encouragement for the retirees. Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers also visited. Senator Rockefeller was also a huge advocate for the occupiers. On more than one occasion, he and his office provided meals.

During the encampment, negotiations continued between Century Aluminum and the union. Occasionally, representatives from the group of retirees went to the meetings to air their grievances and make their case personally.

After 75 days of encampment, on 29 February 2012, retirees and Century Aluminium reached an agreement. The factory promised to restore health care benefits for all retirees and former employees.

Research Notes

The Occupy Wall Street movement influenced Occupy Century, especially in terms of their methods. (1)

Fassinger, James. (2012). “Occupy Century Aluminum.” 30 Mar. 2012. Web site: Occupy. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170510194848/http://www.occupy.com/article/occupy-century-aluminum

Gerard, Leo. (2012). “Retirees Occupy Century Aluminum. 30 Jan. 2012. Web site: Huffington Post. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170510195011/http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leo-w-gerard/retirees-occupy-century-a_b_1240105.html

Nyden, Paul. (2012). “High hopes in Ravenswood.” 29 Feb. 2012. Web site: Charleston Gazette-Mail. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170510194048/http://www.wvgazettemail.com/News/201202290266

Olzen, Jake. (2012). “West Virginia retirees occupy--and win.” 2 Apr. 2012. Web site: Waging Nonviolence. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170510194220/https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/west-virginia-retirees-occupy-and-win/

WOUB Staff Writer. (2012). “Occupy Century Aluminum Receives Support From Athens Co. Residents.” Web site: WOUB Digital. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170510194719/https://woub.org/2012/02/21/occupy-century-aluminum-receives-support-athens-co-residents/

(2012). “Retirees camp outside aluminum plant.” 4 Feb. 2012. Web site: Workers World. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20170510195130/http://www.workers.org/2012/us/retirees_0209/


Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Ploy Promrat, 10/05/2017