Alcoa employees sue over severance pay package

From Staff Reports

   Twenty-one employees of Alcoa Extrusions in Elizabethton have filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming that the company reneged on its severance package for employees, who are being laid off due to the plant's closing.
   The lawsuit filed this week in Chancery Court lists as plaintiffs: Thomas Frank Adams, Johnny Ashley, Jerry Baird, John R. Baldasano, David C. Biliter, Robert F. Bohlander, Wassan M. Broyles, Robert Connor II, Warren G. Estep, Ron Ford, James Harmon, Elizabeth A. Holt, Michael L. Holt, Ernest Lee Light, Chris Luster, Foster W. Miller, Phillip A. Nixon, David E. Perkey, Gregory L. Reece and Daryl Lee Sliger.
   All are regular, salaried non-union employees, who define themselves as "production workers producing aluminum products for the defendant at the Elizabethton plant."
   The plaintiffs contend that they worked under a contract with terms of employment stated in the Employee Handbook that provide company policies and procedures, pay practices, health insurance, safety and severance pay pursuant to an "Involuntary Separation Suit."
   Late last year the company announced that the Elizabethton plant was closing, and that approximately 240 persons would lose their jobs. The plaintiffs claim that the severance pay package published and distributed by the employer provided "benefits to employees being four weeks pay (basic benefit) and an enhanced additional benefit of two weeks pay for every full year of service with the company, subject to certain conditions met by the plaintiffs."
   They contend they have met all conditions imposed by the company in its Employee Handbook, however, they have been offered a smaller benefit package by the company. They claim that the Quality Control Department, Tool House employees and certain supervisors reportedly are receiving the "larger benefit packages" that includes the enhanced health insurance benefits.
   The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that their severance pay benefits have been diminished 70 percent or more by the company and their health insurance has been reduced from one year to one month.
   They also claim that some of the employees already separated from their jobs "were threatened and coerced to sign a separation agreement that does not imply acceptance of the small package deal."
   The 21 employees are asking the court to "abjudicate the rights of the parties and hold that the defendant company cannot unilaterally change the contract regarding severance pay and medical benefits after the consideration of labor was paid and closure was planned," and that the larger package of benefits be paid to all plaintiffs.
   They are also asking that Alcoa offer jobs at similar pay scales at any other Alcoa plant when there is an opening, and that letters of recommendation to provided to all employees who have been employed by the company for more than one year.
   Plaintiffs say they are entitled to severance benefits of one year health insurance along with the basic four weeks pay and additionally, enhanced severance pay based on each one's weekly gross pay and number of years of service to the company.