Northeastern Minnesota miners, essential industry hit hard in economic downturn
Less than 24 hours after Hibbing Taconite went quiet, maintenance mechanic and steelworker leader Chris Johnson had another job. Helping co-workers complete unemployment applications.
“Usually, someone with the state comes in and we have a big meeting,” said Johnson, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2705. “But with COVID, we can’t do that.” A little more than a month since Gov. Tim Walz designated the iron ore industry as essential, it’s essentially shut down.
Hammered by the national and state economic downturn, about 1,500 hourly workers of northeastern Minnesota’s 4,105 iron mining employees are being laid off.
What it means is that at least 37% of northeastern Minnesota’s iron mining workforce is unemployed. That doesn’t include an unknown number of salaried employees.
It’s the worst shape the $3 billion industry has been in since 2008-2009 when the entire northeastern Minnesota iron ore industry was shuttered due to a surge of unfairly traded steel imports.