By: Tony Farina
Mayor Paul Dyster is working with state and federal labor officials to try and help the 100 workers affected by the sudden “shutdown” of the Global Specialty Metals silicon production plant in Niagara Falls, effective last Sunday, two days before the beginning of the new year.
“The company did not give the required notice to the local facility and workers as required by the federal WARN Act,” said Dyster referring to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act which requires employers with more than 100 or more employees to provide at least 60 calendar days advance written notice of a plant closing at a single site.
“They didn’t do that,” said the mayor, “and I believe they (Global Specialty Metals) are liable for 90 days of wages and benefits to the workers under the WARN Act.”
Dyster said his administration is working with all of the parties involved, state and federal, and including the United Steelworkers Union, and he expects several claims to be filed to seek benefits for the workers who lost their jobs without proper notice.
The help for the workers could be very significant, said Dyster, possibly as much as $10,000 in benefits, including relocation assistance.
Dyster said the sudden closing caught the city by surprise, and he also believes the local operators of the Highland Avenue plant were also unaware of the shutdown until it happened.
“We had been working with them on grant applications,” said Dyster, including a new furnace. “I think we were all caught by surprise by this announcement.”
Ferroglobe PLC, the London-based owner, made the announcement last Thursday, saying in a statement “the decision to suspend production at the Niagara Falls plant was difficult given the unquestioned commitment of the plant’s employees.”
Ferroglobe CEO Pedro Larrea said the shutdown follows its efforts to adjust production “to optimize utilization rates and logistics to customers” and to “maximize economic efficiency.”
Dyster said an unfavorable ruling from the International Trade Commission last spring on efforts to seek protection from unfair competition also worked against the silicon producer.
“Australia, Brazil, and Norway were dumping by selling below cost,” said Dyster of the ruling that found that silicon producers were not being materially injured by the dumping and unfair subsidized competition, including from Kazakhstan, the largest economy in Central Asia.
Global Specialty Metals was seen as a key piece in the efforts in New York to produce solar grade silicon and the Niagara Falls plant was reopened amid significant fanfare in 2009, receiving tax breaks and low-cost hydropower — which had since disappeared.
“We have been talking to Global here about modernization, not closing,” said a disappointed Mayor Dyster who again said the focus now is on getting help including wages and benefits to the 100 workers affected by the shutdown.
Lost wages were not a problem for former executive chairman Alan Kestenbaum of Ferroglobe PLC who not long ago resigned after merging his North America-focused Global Specialty Metals with Forroglobe after Forroglobe borrowed money to pay Kestenbaum a $30 million golden parachute as part of the deal. The golden parachute was bankrolled by a junk-bond deal, according to published reports by a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist.
Niagara Falls is facing its fair share of economic challenges, and the loss of 100 jobs almost on the eve of the new year is another blow to the local economy. In this case, it appears the Dyster people were hands-on in trying to make it work for Global Specialty Metals in the Cataract City and forces beyond the control of local and state officials appear to have been at work in the sudden shutdown.