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Aluminum tariff receives varied response in central, northern NY

Payne Horning
The Novelis Aluminum plant in Oswego County supplies the metal for automobiles and beverage cans.

The Trump administration's proposed aluminum tariff could have a major impact on a couple of central and northern New York's largest employers.

Canada is the number-one source of aluminum imports to the United States, accounting for about 43 percent in total. It's the same case for Novelis, which owns and operates an aluminum plant in Oswego that employs nearly 1200 people. The company's president of North American operations Marco Palmieri says the plant is a critical part of their operation. 

"We supply aluminum out of Oswego for the major brands in North America - the auto industry, the can industry - and of course if you have to pay any tariffs, you may make our products less competitive," Palmieri said. "If our costs go up, we will be less competitive."

Palmieri says he doesn't see this tariff causing any significant issue to Oswego, like closing the plant or laying off staff, but there may be an increasing cost that the company will have to manage. 

It's the opposite case for an aluminum producer north of Novelis in St. Lawrence County. The roughly 500 workers at an Alcoa aluminum smelting plant in Massena are celebrating the news, according to the local United Steelworkers union president Mark Goodfellow.

"They’re absolutely excited. I mean that’s all they’ve talked about since last week," Goodfellow said. "It feels like we’re actually getting a fighting chance to compete against foreign competition on a level playing field now."

The Massena plant shuttered half of its operations in 2014, and nearly went under the following year, but was able to stay in business thanks to subsidies from New York state. Goodfellow says increased orders from American companies could eliminate their need for state support, and even lead Alcoa to add employees at the plant.

Although the proposed aluminum tariff will mean different things for Novelis and Alcoa, both companies think the president should exempt Canada because the aluminum industry between the U.S. and its northern neighbor is so interdependent.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.