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Looming closure of Alcoa aluminum plant in Ferndale threatens to leave hundreds jobless

The aluminum company announced this week it is closing the facility, leaving 700 workers unemployed.

FERNDALE, Wash — The Alcoa Intalco aluminum smelter has operated in Ferndale for 54 years, employing generations. But that could soon be coming to an end.

On Thursday, hundreds of workers gathered in the city's Pioneer Park, defying a statewide "stay at home" order, hoping to save their jobs.

Earlier in the week the company announced it is shutting the plant down, putting some 700 people out of work. 

People like Austin Wagner, whose father worked at the plant for 47 years.

"I've got like 5 or 6 family members that work out there, as well," he said, "so it really hits home because it isn't just my family. It's my entire family."

The smelter is the last one west of the Mississippi and one of just seven left in America.

It has been battered by China, as the country flooded the market with cheap aluminum due to government subsidies and lax environmental regulations.

State Sen. Doug Ericksen is asking Congress and the White House for help. He said coronavirus is exposing America's dependence on foreign imports.

"The aluminum for the ventilators, the aluminum for the hospital beds, the aluminum for your pick-up trucks, all of it needs to be made in America. I think people are realizing that now."

Glenn Farmer with the International Association of Machinists Local 2379 agreed.

"The solution and what sets workers at Intalco apart will likely center on the fate of the overall aluminum industry and the value of American made aluminum," Farmer said. "This is a test for preserving the US manufacturing base. There needs to be recognition that we will be losing an element of our national security if we don’t address it. This is a global issue, and Chinese domination of aluminum is taking its toll."

RELATED: Ferndale smelter closing, hundreds face layoffs

Union workers said every one job at Alcoa impacts three more in this community.

A closure, combined with coronavirus could crush the working class town of just 15,000.

Jason Swendt desperately wants to save the company that has been so good to him and his hometown.

"I was able to send my daughter all over playing softball. I got to adopt a little baby girl. I know we all have stories. We have to keep talking about our stories. Keep getting help from our representatives. We gotta really get this out there."

Time is running out, though. The company plans to shutter the plant by the end of July.