About 650 workers will lose their jobs as Hibbing Taconite temporarily closes on May 3 amid the slowdown in steel demand and the growing economic fallout from COVID-19, the company said Tuesday.
Hibbing Taconite (Hibtac) is the third taconite mine and pelletizing plant on Minnesota's Iron Range to announce a closure.
The operation, run by majority owner ArcelorMittal, plans to reopen July 6. Also closing are Cleveland-Cliffs' Northshore Mining operations in Silver Bay and Babbitt, which plan to reopen in August, and U.S. Steel's Keewatin Taconite plant, which is idled indefinitely.
Combined, the closures affect about 1,500 workers and mark the latest downturn for the Iron Range, which has had an up-and-down decade caused by overseas competition, the crashing of ore and steel prices and the fortunes of the U.S. auto industry.
Currently, iron ore producers are being hit hard by the reduction in demand for steel, especially since major auto plants shut down last month amid health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of demand for vehicles.
In a statement Tuesday, ArcelorMittal said its current action could not be helped.
"Due to the unprecedented and challenging times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the joint venture partners of Hibbing Taconite will be idling the operation," the company said. "As a result, Hibbing Taconite has begun preparations to reduce production in a safe and orderly manner with necessary precaution to preserve the asset for future production."
The layoffs will affect both hourly and salaried workers, the company said.
The iron ore and steel industries are not the only ones to experience an unprecedented downturn because of the coronavirus pandemic. Companies from Best Buy to Starkey Hearing have furloughed or cut workers in the past few weeks.