Columbia Falls Aluminum Company to Shut Down

By Beacon Staff

The Columbia Falls Aluminum Company notified its employees Tuesday morning that the plant will be shutting down its operations within the next 60 days.

The closure will eliminate the jobs of the roughly 200 employees at the plant, and comes on the heels of a spate of layoffs over the last several months by some of the Flathead’s biggest employers.

Haley Beaudry, CFAC’s manager of external affairs, said a confluence of factors contributed to the closing: low global demand for aluminum, stagnant prices for aluminum while raw material prices remain resilient, and a Dec. 17 decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court against the Bonneville Power Administration that could increase electricity prices for aluminum companies throughout the region.

“Right now it’s a curtailment and we’re always hoping that things change,” Beaudry said. “We’re going to stop producing aluminum and whether or not we restart some time depends on the situation.”

The board of directors for CFAC’s parent company, Glencore AG, made the decision to close, Beaudry said, and the notice that went out Tuesday came from the plant’s vice president and general manager, Charles Reali.

The notice was released as part of the Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, and guarantees worker payment for 60 days, though the plant could shut down sooner.

Given the timing of the announcement, two days before Christmas, Beaudry said the atmosphere at CFAC was “about what you’d expect,” and more details about the plant closure may not be available until after the holiday, though CFAC officials have called the governor’s office and the state’s federal delegation to notify them.

“It’s too early to know what all is going to happen,” Beaudry said. “Nothing is in place yet, but we have qualified for certain federal retraining programs in past cutbacks.”

In July, CFAC shut down one of its pot lines, and laid off 125 hourly workers, citing soaring energy prices for the cutback. Between then and now, hundreds of workers have been let go from some of the valley’s top employers, including: Plum Creek Timber Co., Semitool Inc., Goose Bay and the Troy Mine.

With an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry’s November statistics, Flathead County’s is one of the highest in the state, alongside surrounding counties like Lake, Lincoln, Glacier and Sanders.

Dave Toavs, president of CFAC’s union, the Aluminum Workers Trade Council said the atmosphere among the plant’s employees was somber, but work continued.

‘We’re running business as usual,” Toavs said. “We’re still making metal.”

Acknowleding the plummeting commodity prices, Toavs said CFAC is one of the most efficient aluminum production facilities in the country, adding, “but when the price drops too low, there’s nothing you can do.”