The string of bad economic news on the Iron Range compounded Tuesday when U.S. Steel announced that it will dramatically slow production at its Minntac taconite facility in Mountain Iron starting June 1.
Local union officials said the move will put 700 Steelworkers off the job, nearly half of the nearly 1,500 people who work at Minnesota’s largest taconite mine and processing plant.
The Pittsburgh-based steel giant said the move was forced by an oversupply of iron ore due to continued low demand for its American-made steel — a problem made critical in recent weeks by the ongoing flood of foreign steel made with cheap foreign iron ore.
“Global influences in the market, including a high level of imports, unfairly traded products and reduced steel prices, continue to have an impact,” the company said in a brief statement Tuesday.
State Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, said he’s been told that three of the plant’s five production lines will be shut down in an effort to reduce a backlog of 3.2 million tons of taconite. Union officials said they had not yet been told which employees will be laid off.
The move comes less than three weeks weeks after U.S. Steel said it would shut down production at its Keetac facility in Keewatin starting in May, putting 412 Steelworkers off the job. The Minnesota cuts join a series of layoffs — now estimated at more than 4,000 workers — at U.S. Steel facilities across the country.
In addition to Minntac and Keetac, Magnetation earlier this year announced it will idle its Plant 1 in Keewatin because of decreased demand and the continued depressed price for iron ore globally.
“The problem is, even with Keetac shutting down, domestic iron ore is still piling up on the ground because there’s still too many companies in the U.S. buying foreign steel that’s being dumped in the U.S. illegally,” Metsa said. “We have companies in the U.S. buying steel. But they aren’t buying steel that’s made with Minnesota iron ore.”
Metsa and others on Tuesday expressed frustration over the lack of progress at slowing the flood of foreign steel.
Minnesota lawmakers in Washington met with White House officials last week and secured a promise that the Obama administration would help solve the steel trade problem, But it’s not clear how, or when, those efforts might advance. Minnesota lawmakers want the U.S. government to take faster action against steel that’s dumped below cost on U.S. shores in violation of international trade laws.
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