U.S. Steel may cut another 210 jobs at Keetac

26 September 2015

U.S. Steel could lay off another 210 workers at its Keetac taconite plant in Keewatin.

The potential layoffs could last as long as six months, U.S. Steel spokeswoman Courtney Boone said, and would add to the roughly 150 workers currently laid off from when the plant idled this summer.

In May, 412 Keetac workers were laid off. But last month, about 260 employees were called back to make a repair. Now, those workers could be laid off again.

The company filed a WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act) notice with the state and the United Steelworkers last week that the layoffs might happen, she said.

Boone said the layoff warning came because steel industry conditions continue to remain stressed around the globe. Global taconite, or iron ore, pellet prices remain historically low. And there continues to be dumping of underpriced steel into the United States by China, Korea and other nations.

Boone said that there have been no WARN notice filings for Minntac, the other taconite plant U.S. Steel operates on the Iron Range.

The WARN notice for Keetac comes as the United Steelworkers union and U.S. Steel continue to negotiate on a new labor contract. The two sides have been negotiating for months, and the labor contract expired Sept. 1. Both sides have agreed to continue working on a temporary basis under the old contract while bargaining talks continue.

Union officials have balked at U.S. Steel’s proposals to reduce health care benefits, pension benefits and overtime pay. The union also has resisted the company’s efforts to install a two-tier wage system that would pay newcomers significantly less than the current rank and file.

When asked if the most recent WARN notice was filed in response to labor unrest, Boone said: “This WARN notice is related to the global market challenges in the steel industry. We throughout the year have had to adjust operations up and down related to market conditions and we continue to do so.”

Dan Pierce, vice president of United Steelworkers Local 2660, said that union workers are not panicking and are remaining neutral on the WARN notice until they have more facts or actual layoff notices. “We will get through this one way or the other,” Pierce said.

News that the Iron Range potentially faces more layoffs continues the uncertainty in the region, which weathered 1,452 temporary layoffs since March.

In May, U.S. Steel laid off 812 workers at both Minntac and Keetac. (It has since called back about 400 workers at Minntac and the 260 workers to Keetac). Cliffs Natural Resources and Mesabi Nugget also laid off workers. In May, Magnetation laid off workers from its Keewatin plant and then filed for bankruptcy protection.

Only ArcelorMittal, which owns the Minorca Mine and taconite plant just outside Virginia, has not laid off workers in Minnesota. Its labor contracts with the United Steelworkers expired Sept. 1. Workers there are continuing to work during ongoing bargaining.