JACKSON COUNTY, W.Va. — About $3 million of a $23 million dollar settlement between Century Aluminum and hundreds of its former workers in Jackson County is designated for back pay for health expenses from the past six years, according to an employee representative.
“It’s just incredible,” said Karen Gorrell as a long legal battle came to an end.
“If we didn’t just prove that you just can never give up, I don’t know what does.”
The $3 million is part of the $5 million total Century has agreed to pay into a health care and retirement benefits fund this year as part of a settlement U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver finalized Monday during a hearing in Charleston.
More than 600 retirees, spouses or surviving spouses will be eligible to draw from the United Steelworkers Union Century Aluminum Retirees Health and Welfare Trust, a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association or VEBA.
Documentation will be required with applications for back pay, based on money spent during litigation, with payments anticipated as early as this fall, according to Gorrell.
Letters detailing the process were expected to go out soon to those affected.
Reached in February, the settlement also required Century to put an additional $2 million into the fund each year for the next nine years, bringing the total contributions to $23 million over a decade.
Copenhaver called the settlement generous and Gorrell agreed.
“People might look at that and say, ‘Wow, compared to what they would have paid, that doesn’t seem like such a generous offer,’ but when you take a corporation that won this case, hands down, that had no reason to do this, that they have put $23 million on the table, it’s incredible.”
Gorrell, whose husband retired from Century, said her promise to Bryce Turner, a Century employee who died from leukemia after learning of the benefit cuts but before the filing of the lawsuit, has been kept.
“It’s been almost seven years and we’ve been knocked down so many times and had our legs knocked out from under us a few times and yet this precious little army of mine stayed right with me,” Gorrell told MetroNews through tears on Tuesday.
“My goal seven years ago was to make Century see us as humans, as individuals with beating hearts just like theirs, and I think we finally did that.”
Century Aluminum closed its Ravenswood facility in 2009 and, by 2010, notifications of benefit cancellations were going out to former employees. Efforts to assist Century in re-opening the plant failed.
The Century Aluminum site has since been sold to Applied Partners.
Applied Partners, incorporated in Delaware, planned to put one of its own subsidiaries on the property while also making lots available for other companies.