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Steelworkers rally in Iron Range as labor contracts set to expire Sept. 1

August 31, 2018

Thousands of United Steelworkers (USW) rallied Thursday on the Iron Range in support of new employment contracts that expire Sept.1 with U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal USA.

The three-year labor contracts that expire Saturday evening affect a combined 30,000 U.S. iron and steel workers, including more than 2,000 on Minnesota’s Iron Range. U.S. Steel owns the Minntac in Mountain Iron and Keetac in Keewatin. Arcelor Mittal owns the Minorca mine in Virginia, Minnesota.

Negotiations for the new employment contracts are taking place in Pittsburgh.

Company officials at ArcleorMittal USA did not return phone calls in time for publication.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Meghan Cox said in an e-mail Friday: “Talks have been ongoing, and we will work diligently to keep bargaining in good faith to reach an agreement. At this point, we are unaware of any strike authorization vote taken by the USW. As with previous contract negotiations, our facilities will continue to operate in a safe and orderly manner. We hope to come to a mutually agreeable conclusion.”

Minnesota steelworkers attending three rallies Thursday said that contract negotiations have been difficult because the steel companies are pushing for employees and retirees to pay a greater share of health insurance costs and to give up protections in the event of layoffs or company ownership changes.

Chad Daniels, a Minntac electrical maintenance worker, said union members are upset that U.S. Steel is pushing for another round of concessions after major union concessions were made in 2012 and during the tumultuous plant idlings of 2015 and 2016.

“They want to get rid of any kind of protections for us. They want the world. But we already gave up benefits in 2012 and 2015. Times were bad then and mines were facing bankruptcy. So people understood. But times now are very good. U.S. Steel is set to make almost $2 billion,” Daniels said. “After going to bat for the company and all the help we gave during the last five or six years, this is how they reward us?”

ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel and mining company, issued a statement this week.

“As we near the contract deadline of Sept. 1, ArcelorMittal remains in continuous dialogue with the United Steelworkers and is committed to reaching a fair and sustainable contract without a work stoppage,” it said.

“If an agreement is not reached by the deadline, the parties have a number of options available to them under applicable labor law, including the continuation of the current agreement. Due to the sensitivities of the negotiations process, ArcelorMittal will not provide updates on specific issues being discussed between the parties.”

Minnesota officials are watching the bargaining progress closely.

The steelworkers labor contracts are expiring at a critical time, when most taconite producers on the Iron Range are just getting back on their feet after a horrific global downturn that caused several bankruptcies; seven Minnesota plants to idle for months; and 2,000 layoffs across Northeastern Minnesota.

Keetac and Minntac were among the plants to idle. Keetac, with 420 union workers, was idled for a year and a half and finally reopened in early 2017.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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