JACKSON COUNTY, W.Va. — Former West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is among those expected in Jackson County Saturday for a celebratory picnic for Century Aluminum retirees.

After a seven year fight, those retirees will start receiving enrollment forms this month for health benefits available through the newly-created United Steelworkers Union Century Aluminum Retirees Health and Welfare Trust, a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association or VEBA Trust Fund.

On Sept. 21, Century submitted an initial $5 million payment to the VEBA Trust Fund and will contribute an additional $2 million a year for the next nine years for a total of $23 million.

It’s part of a settlement agreement that was reached in February and finalized in August.

More than 600 retirees, spouses or surviving spouses are eligible for the available funds.

Notification letters about the availability of the health benefit funding have already gone out, according to Karen Gorrell, a Century Aluminum retiree representative.

“It’s an amazing story,” Gorrell told MetroNews. “I really do wish that it could be told across America because it gives you hope.”

Gorrell included elected officials, like Tomblin, on the list of key supporters who she wanted to thank personally Saturday.

“They were amazing. I don’t think what we did could really happen in any other state in the United States. We went to them as little people and they gave us a chance to dance with the big boys,” she said.

“We are grateful beyond words.”

About $3 million of the $23 million total is designated for back pay to help cover health costs incurred since benefits were canceled.

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 and the site has since been sold to Applied Partners.

“We just told our story over and over again,” Gorrell said. “I will always say that it took us almost seven years, but Century Aluminum finally understood that we had heartbeats just like theirs.”

Saturday’s Century Aluminum Retiree Celebration and Recognition Picnic was scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7 at the USW Local 5668 Union Hall in Ravenswood.

“It’s our opportunity to say ‘thank you’ for everything that everybody has done,” Gorrell said.

“Everybody had a small piece of the journey and, when you put it all together, it came out as a great victory.”

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