Kaiser Aluminum and United Steelworkers to Return to Bargaining Table Today as Lockout Continues in Second YearReturn follows release of critical federal report

“Negotiators from Kaiser Aluminum and the United Steelworkers of America are scheduled to meet today through Thursday in Pittsburgh. The meeting is the latest attempt to negotiate an end to the labor dispute now in its 17th month. Kaiser operates facilities in Tacoma and the Spokane area, as well as elsewhere nationwide. About 300 union employees have been locked out in the Tacoma area according to union officials. Kaiser is entering the bargaining session with the union on the heels of a report released from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration regarding their investigation into the July 5, 1999 explosion at Kaiser’s Gramercy, Louisiana plant. The plant was staffed by temporary replacement workers or scabs and Kaiser management while USWA members were locked out of the facility due to the labor dispute. The report released last week, found excessive pressure in several large tanks caused the explosion that injured 29 people. MSHA’s statement on the report stated, Kaiser’s failure to identify and correct hazardous conditions and unsafe practices contributed to the early morning explosion. Kaiser’s apparent failure to follow well-known safety rules and practices resulted in serious injury to workers at the Gramercy plant, said J. Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. We are hopeful that these actions will be immediately addressed by Kaiser management so that we may avoid such tragic accidents in the future. According to the report, mine safety investigators found that an electrical power failure that occurred about half an hour prior to the explosion caused the plant’s electrically powered process machinery to stop. Pumps could no longer move the extremely hot liquid called slurry through the tanks in the process. With the flow stopped, pressure built up in the tanks. Investigators reportedly also found that the plant’s gas-fired boilers continued to deliver high-pressure steam to vessels in the digestion area, further increasing the pressure. The tanks then exploded with great force, resulting in the near total destruction of four tanks and the release of hot caustic material across the plant and into the surrounding community. The report stated the investigators found the plant’s system of relieving pressure in the tanks failed to prevent build-up of pressure because relief valves were impermissibly blocked. The MSHA report concluded: – Kaiser demonstrated disregard for the operating pressure limits established for digestion area pressure vessels. The report stated the evidence shows that Kaiser knew of and condoned the practice of disabling these safety systems. – Kaiser failed to follow the industry standard requiring functional pressure relief safety systems to be maintained for the vessels. The report stated, In fact, Kaiser knew of and condoned the practice of disabling these safety systems. – Kaiser failed to follow prudent engineering practices in failing to properly maintain the integral piping for the pressure relief safety system and discharge pipe. The report found, Kaiser knew that slurry would periodically build up and harden inside the pipes but failed to ensure the pipes were inspected and free of obstruction. – Kaiser management failed to conduct required workplace examinations to identify conditions and practices that posed hazards to employees and did not promptly correct hazardous conditions and unsafe practices that were evident. – Kaiser failed to provide adequate safety and health training for employees nor did it provide proper training on safe operating procedures of their assigned tasks. The report stated, Failure to provide training for employees on procedures to be followed during a power outage contributed significantly to the accident. – Kaiser failed to provide adequate protective clothing for employees exposed to hazardous chemicals. In early January, MSHA issued Kaiser 21 citations for violation of federal mine safety regulations as a result of the accident investigation. The citations entail civil penalties that can range as high as $55,000 per violation and will be assessed for penalties at a later date. At the time of assessment, Kaiser will have the opportunity to contest the citations and penalties before the independent Mine Safety Health Review Commission. Kaiser’s decision to operate Gramercy with an inadequately trained substitute workforce, and the company’s failure to follow safe operating procedures while doing so, clearly led to the July 5th explosion and deserve the most severe penalties allowed by law, said David Foster, director of USWA District 11 and chair of the union’s Kaiser negotiating committee. MSHA’s final report only confirms what we’ve been saying for more than a year – that there is no substitute for a skilled and experienced workforce if you want to run an operation both safely and productively. Foster said he hoped the MSHA finding would serve as a wakeup call to Kaiser to end the lockout. Kaiser released a statement saying the company was surprised and disappointed to see the report. The company said they had met with the agency to offer their rebuttal to an earlier list of citations, and were going to provide the agency additional information but said MSHA issued the report over the weekend. The information from MSHA the Index received was dated Monday, February 7. Kaiser has stated the company disagrees with the citations and that the information it provided to the agency was misinterpreted. The company also stated their outside forensic engineers have concluded that the reasons MSHA cited as causing the explosion did not cause it. The company has said it will challenge MSHA’s conclusion and has filed an appeal with the agency’s administrative law judge.”