420 on Minn. Iron Range face layoffs as United Taconite idles plants – by Dan Kraker (Minnesota Public Radio – July 30, 2015)

http://www.mprnews.org/

In another blow to Minnesota’s reeling iron ore industry, more layoffs were announced on the Iron Range Wednesday.

Cliffs Natural Resources will be temporarily closing its United Taconite mine in Eveleth and its pellet plant in Forbes. The moves affect 420 employees. The latest news brings the number of layoffs announced this year to more than 1,000.

Eveleth Mayor Bob Vlaisavljevich said he had been nervously awaiting an announcement for weeks, ever since he saw the huge stockpiles of taconite pellets sitting alongside the Duluth harbor, waiting to be shipped to steelmakers.

“It was kind of a scary thought, down by the harbor there. When you see them they’re about a quarter mile long, three or four of them,” he recalled. “A lot of boatloads.”

Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves cited that huge inventory of pellets as one reason the company would idle United Taconite for about six months.

The other reason, Goncalves told analysts, is that U.S. steelmakers’ demand for Cliffs’ pellets is down because of a flood of cheap imported steel. When Cliffs’ customers are selling less steel, they don’t need as many Minnesota taconite pellets to make more of it.

“As the absurdly high rate of imported steel penetration reverts back to normal levels, and our clients’ blast furnaces return to normal operating levels, we expect to be able to adjust our production and our sales volume accordingly,” he said.

United Taconite millwright Dan Hill is one of 420 workers at the Eveleth mine expecting to lose his job at the end of August. He said workers learned of the decision Wednesday morning.

“It was a shock,” he said. “I think they were more upset the media knew before they did.”

The shutdown of United Taconite is just the latest blow to the Iron Range’s fragile iron mining industry.

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